The recent service at the Gay Head Cemetery for June Manning was a special gathering. June’s family, friends, acquaintances and so many of the Island community members who all knew June stood together to say goodbye to this remarkable woman. Thankfully the sun was bright, the wind brisk and for a day in November, it could not have been more perfect. Even the wild weather that evening seemed fitting for her final farewell.

As I listened to the drumming and the singing from members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the caring and thoughtful words from Reverend Spinney and Jason Baird, medicine man, and smelled the burning sage, it felt surreal and I could feel June’s presence.

As somewhat of a newcomer to Aquinnah, my position as town clerk has brought me into the company of some very special people. June was certainly one of them. I probably would not have had the opportunity to get to know June if it weren’t for my becoming the town clerk. Having first been appointed by Carolyn Feltz as assistant town clerk, then running for election to finish Carolyn’s term as she retired, it was a learn-on-the job experience for me, with Carolyn’s help. Now I know what the job is, and the tasks are many. Some are easier than others. And when I needed help, June was always there.

I met June at my first election as assistant town clerk. She was one of four official registrars along with Mallory Butler, Marjorie Spitz and Carolyn Feltz.

I learned quickly what a team effort it was to run an election and was introduced to a very special event in our little town which included a lot of storytelling, a little gossip, socializing with the community as they came in to vote and a lot of delicious food, a tradition for elections for who knows how long. June was in the middle of all that, always ready for everything the day had in store.

I felt accepted right away, and was given answers to my many questions with patience and humor. It is this kind of kindness and guidance that was to be part of all of my future election experiences with June. She was tireless in her participation and enthusiasm, usually the first to show up on election day and the last to leave, welcoming voters all day and later counting the votes with the team until the job was done, no matter how late into the night it took.

When I was elected, I leaned on my registrars to support me in this very important duty, which I took seriously. Last year, with four elections and Covid mandates in place, it was difficult to communicate with the community in the old way. Early mail in voting made it so we did not get to see many voters and there was not much lingering for conversation on election day due to safety concerns. But June was there for every election, despite dealing with her serious health challenges and not always feeling well. She loved it and we loved her.

At the November 2020 presidential election, June stayed until almost 11 p.m., when the final count was done. I always tried to have her on my counting team, as I knew her experience and generosity were going to carry my lack of experience. Not being a night person, I was always amazed at June’s level of energy from beginning to end, crunching numbers with us to get the results out to the community. Unfortunately our local election this spring was June’s last.

June was always there to give me a hand with the census, filling envelopes and pointing out people who no longer lived in town. Unable to attend our annual town meeting this spring, I asked June to fill in for me. Of course she said yes, always ready to help.

I grew very close to June in the short time I knew her. I am so honored to have had the chance to sit with her for hours as we worked together, to hear her stories of the past and listen to her accounts of Island history, especially of Gay Head (Aquinnah). I had emailed June on the day she died to say thank you for mentioning my birthday in her Aquinnah town column, never imagining she would not get it. The last paragraph of her last column.

June has served as an Aquinnah registrar since 1994. I am heartbroken that she is not here with us now. I know my team of registrars, who have been working with June for many years, feel the same. I am so honored to be part of this loyal, fun and committed team of ladies, June included, who have been coming together for so many years to cover the elections and count into the night the votes cast.

Of course it will not be the same without June. How will we be able to continue without her? I don’t know, but we will, because as difficult as it will be, June would want us to. 

Gabriella Camilleri is the Aquinnah town clerk.