Derby fishermen, Island friends and family members this week mourned the loss of Ed Jerome, the longtime president of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby who died suddenly on Tuesday. Mr. Jerome, an Edgartown resident, avid fisherman and former longtime principal of the Edgartown School, had led the derby for many years as its president. He left a legacy of service to his community and the annual fishing tournament he loved. He was 71.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and legion of friends during this difficult time,” a statement posted on the derby website said, after word had gone around the Island Tuesday afternoon about his death, reportedly after shellfishing on Sengekontacket Pond. He died later at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

It was Mr. Jerome who revived the derby from a down period in the 1980s. — Alison Shaw

That evening many of his friends gravitated toward derby headquarters. The usual joy at weighing in fish gave way to a subdued mood, with a small memorial of flowers, a candle and pictures adorning the large door that Mr. Jerome opened to start the derby less two weeks earlier.

“It was very healing for a lot of committee members,” said derby chairman Joe El-Deiry. “Just stood around, told stories about Ed. It was somber, but it was also very healing to all be together.”

Mr. El-Deiry said many of the stories were personal, how Mr. Jerome helped one person or another, helped one organization or another. A lot of the stories, he said were funny.

“That’s been one of the things that’s kind of keeping the committee all together. I’ve encouraged the committee to lean on each other. We’re very lucky to be able to spend time with such a great person, and to learn from such a great person. He was a mentor to a lot of us. In sharing stories the last couple days, the biggest thing for me is to keep remembering all of the laughs. We always joked around. We laughed a lot.”

Before the 73rd derby, Mr. Jerome spoke with a sense of wonder and reverence about the tournament’s longevity. — Mark Alan Lovewell

At the weigh station Wednesday night, derby committee member Mike Cassidy was telling stories and showing pictures of Mr. Jerome in his days as principal of the Edgartown School.

“He was principal to my three kids,” Mr. Cassidy said. “Ed Jerome is the modern derby, he really is.”

Mr. Cassidy told a story about Mr. Jerome and the dramatic derby key ceremony, where the winners of the top four categories from a boat and from a shore pick a key at random. One of the keys opens a padlock, and the winners receives either a boat or a vehicle.

“Every year, just before the awards ceremony, he would look a little haggard,” Mr. Cassidy said. “He has the same recurring nightmare of one of the

keys not working. He’s got those locks and keys that he keeps protected all year. I think he spends about two days oiling them, and trying them over and over again. He’s lucky they didn’t stop working from being worn out.”

Mr. Cassidy said one of his most cherished memories happened the day before Mr. Jerome’s death. Mr. Jerome invited him to go out fishing on his boat, but Mr. Cassidy had work commitments and declined. Later, after encountering Mr. Jerome at the post office, the two decided to put work aside and head out on the water.

“I went out with him for four hours,” said Mr. Cassidy. “So I have the privilege and distinction of being the last one to go out and get skunked with Ed Jerome, because we didn’t catch a damn thing. You know what, it gave us more time to talk.”

Many said the loss has colored the derby this year and will be felt in different ways.

Many said the loss has colored the derby this year and will be felt in different ways. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“Picture the awards ceremony without him,” said derby committee member Dave Nash. “He got such enjoyment out of the key ceremony. Somebody else will have to do it.”

Mr. Nash said Mr. Jerome’s background made him the perfect person to lead the derby each year.

“You could see the school principal in him every day,” he said.

Adam Darack is another committee member who was deeply saddened by the death of Mr. Jerome.

“He was just a remarkable person,”

Mr. Darack said. “Seems like on the Island, the bigger the personality, the more polarizing you are. They either love you or they hate you. Not Ed. Everybody just loved him.”

Mr. Darack noted that it was Mr. Jerome, more than anyone else, who revived the derby from a down period in the 1980s.

Many of Mr. Jerome's friends gravitated toward derby headquarters on Tuesday. Mr. El-Deiry said people told stories both moving and funny. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“It was his baby,” Mr. Darack said. “The knowledge that he had, the insight, his instincts, were just remarkable. He’ll be missed.”

In the days leading up to the 73rd annual derby, Mr. Jerome talked to the Gazette about the event. He spoke with a sense of wonder and reverence about the tournament’s longevity, and the lasting friendships formed.

“It’s such a good feeling to know you have such an extended family, all the result of such an incredible event,” Mr. Jerome said. “People cherish being part of the derby. We’re awfully proud to participate in one way or another.”

Mr. Jerome is survived by his wife Maryanne L. (Langley) Jerome and son Nick Jerome. He was predeceased by his son Joseph E. Jerome in September 2013.

Visiting hours will be held in the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home in Oak Bluffs on Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. Funeral services are planned for Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Edgartown.

Donations in his memory can be made to the Joseph Jerome Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 2232 or to the MV Derby Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 2101, both in Edgartown, MA 02539.