Helen E. Meleney, a third-generation summer resident of East Chop, died on Tuesday, Dec. 24 in Greenbelt, Md. She was 81.
She was the daughter of George L. and Elizabeth S. Meleney. Helen was born in Washington, D.C., in 1932. She was raised in Bethesda, Md., and was a 1950 graduate of Sidwell Friends School. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1954 and earned her master’s degree at the University of California at Berkeley in 1959. She taught physical education in Prince George’s County elementary schools for 30 years. She was light-hearted, perky and ready to be playful. She found special ways to connect with others. These traits made her uniquely gifted as a physical education teacher who encouraged children to enjoy both physical fitness and being outdoors. She lived in Greenbelt, Md., an FDR-era planned community where she celebrated the environment, community support and unostentatious lifestyles.
Her greatest love was probably sailing in Vineyard waters. As a teacher, she was able to spend most of her summers at the family’s home on East Chop. As a teenager, she learned to sail at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club, first on Wood Pussy and then on Bahpu, a Vineyard 15. As an adult she sailed a Gem (Sundance) and was a member of the East Chop Yacht Club. Examples of her generosity include inviting any and all to come sailing with her. Many people have fond memories of sailing adventures with Helen. She also paid for sailing lessons for her nieces and nephews. She enjoyed a daily swim from the middle pier of the East Chop Beach Club.
Another of her great loves was birding. She had been introduced to it by her aunt, Grace Meleney, but she did not become a birder until two decades later, beginning in Maryland, where she was a longtime volunteer with the Audubon Naturalist Society. Birding gave her a lens through which she experienced new places and shared her enthusiasm with others. She used it to explore the nooks and crannies of the U.S. and the world, including eastern and western Africa, south Asia, Central and South America, and Australia.
Other regular activities on the Vineyard included organizing the Ladies Round Robin at the East Chop Tennis Club, and memorial flowers for Union Chapel. She volunteered at the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society’s museum once a week, welcoming visitors as she busily caned chairs. She had many talents and interests in a variety of arts and crafts. She enjoyed visiting the art galleries and attending plays at the Vineyard Playhouse. She participated regularly in AA.
She is survived by her brother Peter and his wife Ann, and her sister Jane Meleney Coe and her husband Bob, Austin D. Wise, seven nieces and nephews, 10 great-nieces and nephews, and numerous cousins. Her sister, Barbara Wise, predeceased her. Because she was born on the same day as her mother, on June 26, extended family members’ memories of Helen center around the early summer celebrations of spud and kickball games and watermelon at the family home on Prospect Park. Part of the celebration of her life will be on June 26. In the meantime, to honor her memory, do an unexpected kindness for another or do something quirky — leading others to smile — or simply be yourself, no matter what others may expect of you.
In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, P.O. Box 494, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 or the Audubon Naturalist Society, 8940 Jones Mill Road, Chevy Chase, MD, 20815 or audubonnaturalist.org would be welcome.
Remembrances and condolences may be sent to Jane Meleney Coe, 6703 Pawtucket Road, Bethesda, MD 20817, to be shared with family members.