If you ever saw Patrick Gunkel on the Island, you would probably remember him. He was the one riding a bicycle with a cat on his shoulder.

Tatiana is an unusual cat. Her Turkish Van breed likes high perches, water and games, which may account for her willingness to accompany Patrick on his frequent excursions from Woods Hole where he lived.

But then Patrick was an unusual man. A high school dropout, he was gifted with an extraordinary mind that approached the world of ideas with the discipline of a scientist, sorting, classifying and combining them to create an infinite web of new associations. In the 1970s, he talked his way into a job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s computer science lab where he laid out the elements of a new field, ideonomy: the science of ideas. MIT still maintains a website for his visionary philosophy, including a series of meticulously drawn diagrams showing the complexity of a single concept. A two-page colored chart, for example, illustrates 152 forms of radiation. Later, he moved to Austin where he continued his research as a visiting scholar at the University of Texas.

Patrick was just 69 when he died earlier this month at the Newton Wellesley Center for Alzheimer’s Care. A brief obituary appears in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

Every week this newspaper serves notice of the deaths of a few more individuals with connections to Martha’s Vineyard. Some are lifelong islanders, some are seasonal residents, some lived here long ago. Some, like Patrick Gunkel, only spent days at a time on the Island, but became part its intricate fabric by virtue of one distinguishing trait. To many, he was simply The Cat Man.

In almost every obituary, there is a hidden surprise, a nugget of information previously unknown and unimagined. An abandoned profession. An unexpected passion. A life-altering tragedy. People we thought we knew based on a limited interaction seem to grow and change as the fullness of their lives are revealed.

Obit, a delightful documentary shown at the recent Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in Chilmark, went behind the scenes at the New York Times obituary desk where writers hunt for facts and untold stories that offer tribute to a person’s many dimensions.

“Ironically,” says Margalit Fox, one of the featured journalists, “obits have next to nothing to do with death and everything to do with life.”

The Gazette’s files, so often a source of rich detail about Island characters, offer little to fill in the gaps of Patrick Gunkel’s fascinating life, though the MIT site contains a 1987 profile of him from the Wall Street Journal.

In a rare 2004 interview in Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, Mr. Gunkel spoke with writer Laura Roosevelt about his first Turkish Van cat, Sinbad. He adopted him as a scientific experiment to examine why he didn’t like cats. “Within three day, my prejudice had evaporated,” he said. “It taught me how shallow prejudice really is.”

At the time, Mr. Gunkel said he often developed scientific theories or did complicated mathematical equations while riding and preferred not to be interrupted. But he was pleased on occasion when elderly people stopped to tell him how much it meant to see him riding with his cat.

“I think they understand,” he said, “the idea that we are underscoring in an important way (is) the importance of kindness. I believe that kindness is everything.”

Goodbye, Cat Man. We wish we knew you better.