Albert B. Littlefield of West Tisbury died peacefully at the age of 97 in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital with family by his side on July 8. He had been in declining health for the last 10 years since losing his beloved wife, Peggy, but it is for his graciousness during his decline and the wonderful life that he led that he will be remembered.
A passionate lover of the Vineyard, he was born in the small green house which was part of the 450-acre Littlefield-Smith family farm on State Road in West Tisbury, Nov. 13, 1911, the only child of Edson Forrest and Marie Ames Littlefield. He graduated from the West Tisbury School in 1926, from the Tisbury High School in 1929 and from Tabor Academy, where he was on the football team and rowing crew and excelled in track and field. He attended the University of New Hampshire for two years until the difficult financial times of the Great Depression made it necessary for him to leave after his sophomore year.
Some of the happiest memories of his childhood were swimming with the Whiting boys at Quansoo and spending time with his maiden aunts, Effie and Mindwell Littlefield, who along with his father were born in the family homestead which is now the offices of the Polly Hill Arboretum. It was with delight that he told stories of taking part in a West Tisbury outhouse tipping, being in plays at Tisbury High, being a participant in a Tabor summer course in France and courting Peggy (Margaret Kahler), who lived with her aunt and uncle, Ethel and Frank Vincent, on Main street in Vineyard Haven, where the town fathers told him he needed to push that noisy Harley of his with the hole in its muffler from her house to Mt. Aldworth if he was going to leave town after 10 p.m.
Al married Peggy in 1936 and worked at the Cape and Vineyard Electric power plant on Beach Road until his love of things mechanical led to his young family leaving the Island in 1941 with their twin girls, Sydna and Ann, to take a position with on-the-job engineering training with American Locomotive Company in Auburn, N.Y., where their other girl, Lia, was born. He worked for ALCO out of Kansas City and then St. Louis as a specialist overseeing the installation, rebuilding and testing of stationary diesel engines in power plants throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was good that he loved traveling, because, like a seafarer, his work kept him away from home for months at a time. He missed a lot of birthdays and anniversaries, but he was always home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and his family traveled with him some summers staying in such places as the Rancho Grande in Nogales, Ariz., a log cabin on Little Turtle Lake in Bemidji, Minnesota and hotels and motels in Tulsa, Okla., Horton, Kan., Little Rock, Ark., and Creede, Colo.
During his vacation time, the family headed for theVineyard to visit relatives, and in 1963 he and Peg bought 25 acres and the little green house (all that was left of the family farm on that side of State Road) from his mother. Peggy spent summers in the house renting rooms to pay the mortgage, and they moved back to the Island to live year-round in 1967 when Al left ALCO to become an independent consultant. He especially enjoyed spending time in the Alaskan bush working on diesels for the pipeline and on an Indian reservation. His last extensive contract was with the Pilgrim power plant in Plymouth, where he used his expertise to oversee all things mechanical on both the diesel backup and nuclear sides of the plant. Affectionately known there as “the old man,” he was asked to extend his contracts until he retired in 1987 at the age of 76.
His years at the Plymouth plant kept him close to home, so Al was able to serve the town of West Tisbury as a member of the finance committee from 1973 to 1988 (following in the footsteps of his father, who served as a selectman for the town from 1913 to 1933), to reconstruct his grandfather Albert’s pond on the Mill Brook side of the farm and to build a new home on the bank above it, called Glory Hill, where he and Peggy used to sit when they were young and dream of having a home of their own overlooking the lower meadows and stone walls. He often spoke of the beauty of the Vineyard, how lush it was in the summer, how beautiful the colors were in the fall, and a Menemsha sunset would bring tears to his eyes. He especially enjoyed the Agricultural Fair.
The entire family thanks the staffs of Windemere, where Al lived for three years, and Long Hill, where he lived the last seven years of his life, for their loving care.
Al is survived by his three daughters, Ann Nelson of West Tisbury, Sydna Moon and her husband Harvey of Tyler, Tex., and Lia Kahler-Littlefield and her husband Thomas Huber of New York and Menemsha; and by his three grandsons and their families, Dean Allen and Julie Moon and their daughters Ashley and Brittney of Austin, Tex., Jeff and Katy Moon of Tyler, Tex., Jon and Teresa Nelson and their children, Jon, Brianna and Nicholas, of Austin, Tex., and Patricia Nelson Parker and her husband Jon of Oak Bluffs.
Both Al and Peg were people lovers. Many Vineyarders will remember them serving punch and cheese at the book signing parties at the Bunch of Grapes, then their daughter Ann Nelson’s store. Al, a big man at 6 foot 4, loved to eat, especially with family and friends.
A family graveside service will take place at the West Tisbury Cemetery early on Saturday, Sept. 19. All who wish to join the family in celebrating Al’s life are invited to come to the Polly Hill Arboretum at 11 a.m. that same day for a memorial celebration and potluck lunch. Parking is across State Road in Ann Nelson’s field, which is entered at Littlefield Lane. Those staying for the lunch are asked to bring a favorite side dish or salad. Any questions can be addressed to daughter Lia at 1-508-645-3325.
Donations in Al’s memory may be made to the Albert Littlefield Maintenance Fund of the Polly Hill Arboretum, P.O. Box 561, West Tisbury, MA 02575 or to affordable housing.