"I was born Dec. 14, 1918. There were no guns fired that day, either in salute or anger. The armistice between the Allies and Germany had been signed one month earlier on Nov. 11. However, I probably screamed loud enough to be heard at many places akin to the whistling of the shells flying over the French in France," my grandfather, Melville Chapin, once wrote in an unconscious nod to the opening paragraph of David Copperfield.
As a beginning, if it's good enough for my grandfather and Dickens, it's good enough for me. All that remains to be written is the end; Melville Chapin died March 9, at the age of 85.
Mel, as he was known to his numerous friends, was a man of great dignity and elegance, even in death. He was a man who liked his tools, who carried around salves and balms with which to cure his family's cuts and scrapes, who drank gin and tonics, a man who polished his wife's shoes every Saturday, who liked to sit on a dock in Menemsha and eat raw clams out of their shells, a man who hated brussel sprouts and adored the color blue.
But he was also a man who raised $52 million for 200th anniversary fund for Phillips Academy, Andover, where during his life he wore many hats including student, president of the board of trustees, president and chairman of the bicentennial fund, trustee emeritus and chairman of planned giving. Mel was a man who, over the years, served as chairman of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear, chairman of the Yale alumni board, chairman of Yale's planned giving, president of the Yale Club of Boston, director of the former Bank of New England, director of Cambridge Bancorp, president of Cambridge Community Services, president of United Community Services and director of United Way of Massachusetts, just to name a few.
He was a recipient of the United Community Planning Corporation's Charles M. Rogerson Award, the Yale Medal, the Yale Bowl, Yale's Nathan Hale Award and the Andover Bowl.
My grandfather, a naturally humble man, was both proud and flattered to wear the many mantles offered him. His house was full of paperweights and various clocks from the assorted groups thanking him for the service he had done. They rested on desks, windowsills and bureaus, and were such a daily sight for my brother and me as children that I never registered them until his death. But he was pleased as punch each time he was recognized anew. The sheer breadth of his trusteeships became something of a joke among his friends. One particular friend of my grandparents even made a needlepoint hanging for him that read: "When to meetings I go, with the greatest of skill, I always contrive to keep perfectly still, 'cause if I show interest or seem a bit witty, wham! There I am on another committee."
Despite all his comings and goings at various organizations, however, Mel also had a full-time job as a lawyer. At the time of his death he was of counsel for Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, formerly Boston's Warner & Stackpole, where Mel had been a partner and chairman.
My grandfather, an Andover native, knew my grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Parker, all his life. They married in September, 1940. A picture of them on a boat in Edgartown, which sits on my desk, shows my grandfather at 20, handsome as a movie star, grinning and holding my lovely grandmother's smiling face in his hand, as she somewhat shyly won't turn fully to face the camera. When I think of my grandparents, I think of this picture. Despite their differences in temperament, or perhaps because of them, they were always laughing together.
After his death, I sat down and reread some of grandfather's writings. In his later years, he had typed up several books of memoirs. In one these, entitled Growing Up in the '20s, I rediscovered several things about him: a passion as a child for the Sears Roebuck catalogue, which could magically produce a shiny bugle for $4.99 and smashing red wagon for $7.99; his delight in his boyhood camp, Camp Chewonkee, which I think he dedicated half the memoir to writing about, and his love of Edgartown, which he describes as "heaven."
But my most important discovery was his voice, which was still there, captured in those pages. Aside from the keen loss of the physical self, the loss of someone's voice is the most devastating aspect of death. Like mental images, the timbre of the voice, the exact phrasing of someone's words, begin to fade before they are lost to you forever. But as long as I could read my grandfather describing himself as a child as "rather round in condition," or making references to a "hurty brush," his voice was in my head, in me.
Editors' note: The Island has been a summer retreat for several generations on both Mr. and Mrs. Chapin's sides of the family. Mr. and Mrs. Chapin were married at St. Andrew's Church and honeymooned on the Island. Mr. Chapin was active in the Edgartown Reading Room, serving for a time as its president. He served for many years on the legal committee of the Edgartown Yacht Club, and was an avid sailor.
In addition to his wife of 63 years, Elizabeth Parker Chapin, he is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth M. Grummon of Mattapoisett; a son, Allan M. of New York city, and seven grandchildren (one of whom, Liza Klausmann, submitted this essay).
Interment will be private. Plans are being made for a memorial service on the Island. A memorial service will be held April 24 at 3 p.m. in Cochran Chapel at Philadelphia.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Foundation of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Inc., Development Office, 243 Charles street, Boston, MA 02114; Yale University Class of 1940, Yale Office of Development Memorial Program, P.O. Box 2038, New Haven, CT; or the Melville Chapin Memorial Fund, Phillips Academy, 180 Main street, Andover, MA 01810.