The village of Oak Bluffs is a buzz as the Tucker family approaches the 100th birthday celebration for their amazing matriarch Mary Hill Tucker. The Tuckers have been resident fixtures in the School street district for decades, ever since her late husband the Hon. Herbert E. Tucker, Jr.’s aunt Estelle Fitzgerald purchased a Camp Ground cottage and relocated it to Gorham avenue. After Herbie and Mary took over the property they added substantially to the grounds as their daughters, the late Gwen Wharton and Gretchen Tucker Underwood grew and matured. Judge Tucker was so prominent and accomplished as a jurist and barrier breaker with the NAACP and his beloved Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., it would be easy for the unseasoned eye to miss the historical role that his wife of 70 years played here on the Island.

Mary came from a family of educators that were phenomenal in their own right and she brought that experience to her marriage and to her community service. Her father was Leslie Pickney Hill who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College in 1903 and earned his master’s degree in 1904. He would find his way to the famed Tuskegee Institute where he would meet the first dean of women at the school, Jane Ethel Clark. They would marry and later move to Pennsylvania, where they would lead Cheyney State, now university from 1913-1951. As the daughter of a college president, Mary was very familiar with fundraising and those skills came in handy when the family moved to the Island permanently in 1985. The family became devoted members of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven and before too long she got involved. Churches like colleges and universities are always in the business of adding events and programs to raise funds for worthy causes, especially community outreach services. Mary and fellow church member Carolyn Cassio thought that in addition to the usual Sunday bake sale and light brunch after church, they should sell lobster rolls. This idea, which began in 1990 has mushroomed into selling more than 16,000 sandwiches each summer to parishioners, tourists, Island residents and summer residents. Now dubbed The Lobster Fest, it has become an Island tradition.

But there’s more. In 1969, the Rev. Canon John Melville Burgess became the 12th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, making him the first African American diocesan bishop of the church in the United States. The Burgess family would move permanently to the Island in 1989 and would befriend the Tuckers, sharing Grace as their place of worship. Bishop Burgess’s leadership rise is part of a long historical arc of that began with Absalom Jones in Philadelphia. Jones founded the African Church in Philadelphia in 1792, which became the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in 1794. In 1804, Jones was ordained as the first African American priest in the Episcopal church.

Two stained glass windows in Grace Church commemorating the religious success of both Burgess and Jones is yet another brainchild of Mary and her fellow parishioners. Mary Hill Tucker has been a leading force in two transformational projects that have solidified for her a permanent place in the hearts and minds of those on the Vineyard that value service and philanthropy. We salute her life’s work and generosity.

Finally, the Martha’s Vineyard Cancer Support Group’s Daffodil Time is coming soon. Bunches of daffodils will be sold at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for $10 per bunch on Friday March 16 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and on Saturday, March 17 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs, Cronig’s in Vineyard Haven and the Edgartown Stop & Shop.

Cheers to Leon Brathwaite for successful knee surgery at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

Paradise on earth is the Vineyard experience. Enjoy it as life is fleeting!

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