George Manter, Police Chief for 26 Years, Filled Up the Doorways of West Tisbury

George Whitten Manter, a native son of West Tisbury who served his nation as a soldier in Korea and his town as chief of police for 26 years, died Saturday, Nov. 8, at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston after a long illness.

He was born to Lillian Davis Manter and Daniel Manter on June 14, 1930 at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital in Oak Bluffs. His father, a respected builder, served West Tisbury as a selectman for 30 years. His mother was active in the hostel movement, serving as chairman of the Island hostel committee; the American Youth Hostel on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road is named for her.

West Tisbury was predominantly rural when George Manter was growing up. As a young person, he enjoyed the fishing and hunting provided in a town that had miles of unrestricted open land and beaches. In the West Tisbury School, which went up to the eighth grade, there were four or five children to a class. In June of 1942, a social note in this newspaper reported:

"George W. Manter, son of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Manter of West Tisbury, observed his 12th birthday Sunday by entertaining a group of his schoolmates at a beach party and picnic that afternoon at the Manter camp at South Beach. Softball was played, swimming followed, and a frankfurter roast was held at the close of the afternoon.

"Guests included James Alley, William King, Robert Austin, Jack Reed and John Raymond. Also present were George's parents, his older sister, Betty, and Marjorie and Robert MacInnis of Vineyard Haven."

Mr. Manter was graduated from the Tisbury High School in 1949 and went to work for his father in the building business. He was drafted into the Army in 1952 and served in the Korean War, from which he was discharged with the rank of sergeant.

Reported the Gazette on August 22, 1952: "Pvt. George W. Manter left on Monday from Logan Air Field in Boston and with 40 other members of his company flew by chartered Army plane to Fort Lawton, Wash., where he is awaiting further orders."

Mr. Manter was assigned to the 10th Field Artillery Battalion, where he served as an artillery range fire director at the headquarters battery fire direction center, which controlled three gun batteries operating the light cannons called 105 howitzers. The newspaper of Nov. 6, 1953, carried this news:

"Sgt. George Manter, son of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Manter of West Tisbury, arrived home with three days still to go in the bass derby. His father had a license waiting for him when he got here, and folks barely saw hide or hair of him for those three days. As a matter of fact, he has been pretty much in hiding since then, for shortly after the derby the hunting season started. It seems that when either a rod or a gun is involved there's no holding Sergeant Manter."

This wedding notice appeared on Jan. 29, 1954: "Miss Janice Barbara Riedel, daughter of Mrs. Walter Bernard Riedel of Melrose and the late Mr. Riedel, became the bride of George Whitten Manter, son of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Manter of West Tisbury, Saturday in the First Methodist Church chapel, Melrose." Richard Doane of West Tisbury was best man and the ushers included Daniel Bryant of West Tisbury. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Manter would raise a family of two boys and four girls.

While working with his father as a builder during the early years of his marriage, Mr. Manter also became a part-time West Tisbury police officer. "Then I started doing more policing and less contracting," he later recalled in an interview. In 1966, Mr. Manter was named chief of police in West Tisbury, a post he would hold for 26 years until his retirement in June of 1993.

Chief Manter presided over the department during a time of expansion which saw its budget grow from less than $20,000 to more than $300,000. Looking back on the years of change, he said, "West Tisbury has become civilized. Too civilized."

"Chief Manter is a big man, tall and broad-shouldered, with strong facial features and fine, blue eyes," Virginia Poole wrote in a story about his impending retirement in 1993. "He fills the doorways of West Tisbury as he goes about his duties and overflows the town hall chairs while he patiently waits to speak at meetings. He has an aura of steadfast attention about him, one that indicates he knows what his office requires but at the same time transmits his own special appreciation of people."

In that interview, Chief Manter recalled drawing his firearm only once in all his years on the West Tisbury police force, and then only cradling it while apprehending some thieves in the middle of the night. "I used to tell my men, don't load your gun, and you'll never get in trouble," he said.

Over the years, Chief Manter brought to his work a deep sense of fairness and an abiding love for the town he served. Even in his retirement, his commitment to public service was strong. At the time of his death, he was a member of the West Tisbury board of health. He enjoyed his coffee stops at Alley's General Store, Conroy's Apothecary and Humphrey's Foodshop. He enjoyed hunting and fishing, especially deer week.

On the eve of his retirement, asked if he had anything he wanted to say to the community, Chief Manter replied, "To the people of West Tisbury . . . I think they have been good to the department."

At the start of Wednesday's meeting of the West Tisbury selectmen, chairman John Early said, "We offer our sincere condolences to the Manter family on the passing of George Manter. He was the embodiment of the spirit of West Tisbury, for me, anyway. A giant was lost. We are all going to feel the loss very deeply."

Mr. Manter's daughter Gretchen died in 1982. In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Kimberly and her husband, Kenneth, of Chilmark; Jennifer and her husband, Glen, of Littleton, Colo., and Melissa of West Tisbury; two sons, George (Whit) Jr. and his wife, Diana, and Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter, both of West Tisbury; two sisters, Elizabeth of Bradenton, Fla., and Marjorie of West Tisbury, and three grandchildren, Lindsey, Joshua and Jonathan of Chilmark.

A graveside service was held at the West Tisbury Cemetery at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 13, with military honors provided by the veterans of Martha's Vineyard. John S. Alley, cemetery superintendent, reported that more than 500 people came to pay their respects on a windswept afternoon.

Donations in Mr. Manter's memory may be made to the Gretchen Manter Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Office of the Superintendent of Schools, RR2, Box 261, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.