On March 15, Mildred (Millie) Dowdell died in Tampa, Fla., at the home of her devoted daughter, Tonetta, at the age of 95. Her passing inspired me to attempt to capture the essence, the intricate and colorful quilted patchwork woven into the fabric of the Island, that is the remarkable legacy left by the Dowdell family.

My friendship with the Dowdell family began the summer of 1994. In July of that year, my line sisters and I, 33 In Unity of the Iota Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. in Boston, decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary in Oak Bluffs. We were scattered around Oak Bluffs, the enclave of prominent African Americans, going back to circa 1903. I felt so lucky and proud to be staying in the summer cottage of the Honorable Royal Bolling Sr., who in 1961 was elected to the Massachusetts house of representatives, where he served six two-year terms, and in 1965 sponsored the state’s Racial Imbalance Act, which led to the desegregation of Boston’s public schools.

I parked in front of 6 Narragansett avenue and immediately said good morning to the distinguished-looking family of beautiful women sitting on the porch of an exquisitely landscaped cottage named JATOMI, directly across the street.

“I see you’re from Connecticut,” one of the women remarked, noticing my license plate.

“Yes, Ma’am, I am.”

“Do you know where Hartford is?”

“Yes, I live in Hartford,” I said.

“Do you know Upper Albany?”

I chuckled incredulously. “Yes, I live in Upper Albany.”

“Do you know where Deerfield avenue is?”

Mouth open, head slowly shaking from side to side, I said, “Yes, my home is on Deerfield avenue!”

The matriarch of the family, Ozella Dowdell, replied, “We were the first black family to own a home on Deerfield avenue.”

Ozella later shared with me how a neighbor with a “welcome basket” rang the bell, then turned and left in a huff after seeing a black woman answer the door who was indeed the “Lady of the House.” The woman then rallied the neighbors together to ask the bank to rescind the Dowdell’s mortgage.

Mr. Moses Fox, owner of G. Fox department store and for whom Ozella’s husband Luther Dowdell was the chauffeur, intervened on the family’s behalf and they lived at 28 Deerfield avenue until they decided to move in 1971.

For the next 22 years, I summered in the Bolling cottage, Abundance, across the street from the Dowdell family cottage, which they had purchased in 1956. I spent many, memorable hours with the Dowdell sisters — Ruth, Kathy and Millie — enjoying a cold beverage, sharing news of the Island, world politics, the comings and goings of the Obamas, and gazing out at the sea from their pleasant, wrap-around porch.

The sisters dished out a magical blend of intellect, wisdom and straight-forward mother wit made to order. All day, every day, a never-ending parade of eclectic, culturally-diverse people stopped by and paid homage to the Dowdell women.

In addition to being educators, the Dowdell sisters led by example with their lifelong commitment to human rights and social justice as demonstrated by their membership in various organizations. On the Vineyard, all three were members of the Cottagers in Oak Bluffs — Ruth and Millie for more than 60 years — and members of the Polar Bears.

Like their father before them, Millie and Ruth were former trustees of Union Chapel and Millie was appointed trustee emeritus. On Sundays, after church service, the three sisters would hold court during the sumptuous, soul-food brunch at the legendary Lola’s.

Kathryn died in 2011 and Ruth passed in 2018. Millie continued to represent, keeping up with her duties on various boards and committees. At the age of 94, she could be seen taking her early morning walk to the beach to join the Polar Bears and running errands around the Island. She shared the cottage with her daughter, Tonetta Henderson.

About a decade or so ago, I met Tonetta and we became fast friends. Why had it taken us so long to meet? We communicated with each other over the winter months, and in March she called to tell me about the death of her mother.

Millie’s life has been celebrated and her death mourned, like her sisters and parents before her, by her extended family and friends of 63 years on Martha’s Vineyard, all of whom refer to the Vineyard, and their house, as paradise. The family will hold a memorial service when everyone can safely gather again.

Denise T. Best lives in Hartford, Conn.