From the Feb. 22, 2002 Gazette.

A life well lived produces a contentment that over years seeps into the bones and becomes a perceivable calm, a clarity and assurance that — as Della Hardman reminisces — you can feel. With a soft smile so natural and relaxed as to appear fixed, she says, “So many people talk about what they want to do, or complain about what they didn’t do. But I was just fortunate to have a supportive family who encouraged me to do things I needed to do.”

She remembers a particular lecture she gave on Greek art. “And I went home that night and told my husband [Francis Taylor], ‘I’m going to have to go abroad and see these places that I’ve studied. Now what are we going to do about that?’ And he said, ‘Well, make some arrangements.’ Can you believe that?”

A perpetual student and a world traveler whose answering machine instructs callers to “savor the moment,” Mrs. Hardman admits to no regrets. About to celebrate her 80th birthday in May, she says, “I look back on all of that and I’m so glad when I was younger and people were saying to me, ‘There she goes again, she’s taking off and leaving her family,’ I’m so glad I didn’t let that affect me. Because I would have been so filled with regret had I done that.”

With a master’s degree in art education from Boston University and schools not hiring, she remembers thinking, “Now what am I going to do? Here I am with this degree, my children were taken care of, I had a wonderful housekeeper, and so I said, well, maybe I can get a job at Harvard.” She worked at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum for a year before eventually returning to teach in West Virginia.

“My approach was trying to teach people to see,” she recalls. Hers is a warm, deep voice; she speaks with smoothly constructed sentences in easy cadence. “I can remember trying to make them aware of the world in which they lived. Instead of looking through things, to really try and get some sense of the things they were looking at and were associated with that were part of their lives.”

Mrs. Hardman easily recalls the names, dates and anecdotal particulars in her vita as she sits at the dining room table in her warmly cluttered Oak Bluffs home. “I outgrew this house the day I moved in,” she comments. Although informal, surrounded by her memorabilia, books, photo albums, a pile of mail that has collected while she was in Florida and all manner of frog-shaped knickknacks, there remains an elegance about her, a dignified bearing that adds weight to her descriptions of the serendipity of people and places in her life.

“I think there are only one or two degrees of separation — not six.” The West Virginia native laughs lightly and lets flow a personal directory of friends and friends of friends, networks often beginning with colleagues and art students from Ohio to the Vineyard, West Virginia to Boston, Florida to Washington, D.C., and spiraling on to include celebrities in government, the arts and academia.

It has been well noted that Mrs. Hardman, who for 30 years taught art at West Virginia State College, earned her doctorate from Kent State University when she was 72, and has a collection of tributes including the Humanitarian Award from the Vineyard NAACP and Inspirational Woman award from the Zonta Club of Martha’s Vineyard.

“When I retired I could have stayed in West Virginia, or gone wherever, somewhere, anywhere, but I chose to come here,” she says. “And I didn’t plan to come and sit. I planned to be involved, wherever I am, that’s the way I like it. Life is interesting.”

Distinction seems her heritage. Her father, who dropped out of school in fourth grade, played bass violin for Boston’s Victorian Orchestra before returning to Charleston to become a successful real estate broker. When her mother, a class of 1920 graduate of Ohio University, died in childbirth, her Aunt Della, a teacher, moved in to help raise her. It was Aunt Della who first brought the little girl to the Vineyard. Mrs. Hardman remembers when paddle boats filled the harbor and her father, during his brief visits, would sit on a porch in the Highlands with Eben Davis Bodfish and talk real estate.

With generous detail and patience, Mrs. Hardman carefully outlines her chronology. Seven years after the death of her husband and high school sweetheart; Francis Taylor, she called her other former high school beau, Leon Hardman, to escort her to a 40th Boston University reunion. “And do you know what his comment was? He said, ‘Della, I don’t know any of those people.’ And I said, ‘After 40 years, how many of them do you think I can remember?’” They married in 1987, but Leon Hardman died eight years later; the same year, she suffered a major heart attack.

“I hear people complain, but I don’t have time to do that. Sitting around complaining about it doesn’t do anything about it.” She speaks with conviction. “What can I do to make things a little bit better? Not so much for me, but for anybody’s life. I try to make every day count, savor the moment, that’s my mantra. Make every minute count, because you’re not promised anything.”