Joseph S. Vera died peacefully in Shelburne, Vt. on May 22 near his daughters Lynn and Anne. He lived a full and impactful life.

He was born in 1928 in New Bedford to Portuguese parents. His ancestors were whalers, farmers and fishermen from the Azores.

Joe’s amazing life was one of volunteerism and civic engagement, whether in New Bedford, Oak Bluffs, or Cambridge. He was outspoken and sometimes harsh, but usually correct and fair. He used his significant education (Fessenden, Exeter, Harvard, BU Law and Georgetown Law master’s degree) to work and legislate for social justice, especially fair housing for women and minorities. He was a regional administrator for HUD and was very proud of his lifelong member status in NAACP; he never stopped caring about and fighting for equity and access. Along with his wife Cecilia Baldo, who died in 1990, he passed this social justice activism to their six children, Lynn, Celia, Louise, Anne, Ellen, and Joseph, who predeceased him.

He was an exceptional, lifelong athlete; this too he passed on to his children and now grandchildren. He was national collegiate fencing champion and a standout boxer in college. He is in the Harvard University Hall of Fame. A highly skilled sailor, he was as proud of childhood trophies from racing a Beetle Cat in Padanaram as he was of top finishes in Holmes Hole races on the Vineyard, which he won often and into his 80s in his Folkboat Sol e Mar. A bowler, alpine skier, swimmer, tennis player, gardener, and runner, Joseph was competitive at most things. He won a swim medal at age six, and ran and won his last 5K at age 87.

His book, music and art collections reflected his love of learning, Portuguese history, world-wide travel, whaling, American history and local lore. He loved classical music and supported many local concert series and artists. He appreciated liberation theology and valued his Catholic faith, courageously voicing his support of increased roles for women in the church, gay rights and a pro-choice stance. He found progressive spiritual homes at St. John the Baptist, Star of the Sea, Paulist Center and finally St. Catherine of Sienna in Shelburne, Vt. Congregations everywhere appreciated his gorgeous tenor voice. With the Harvard Glee Club he sang Brahms’s Requiem in Symphony Hall as a young man. More recently he happily sang with the Shelburne Residents’ Chorus.

His lifelong relationship with Martha’s Vineyard began in 1929, summering as a young boy on Penacook avenue while his father served as a court judge coming over from New Bedford. Part of Joe’s far-reaching legacy to his family is the restored (always in process) Victorian on Ocean Park.

A cerebral bleed in 2012 seriously impacted his life and increasingly limited the freedom and happiness of this fiercely independent man. He struggled to make sense of his life and challenges, and found support in the people around him and his faith.

His family is grateful to their friends, Tom Licata (Home Instead), Brandon, Jess, MarieClaire, Anet, and all the dedicated staff at the Residence at Shelburne Bay, VNA Hospice nurses, chaplains and social workers, and the nursing staff at the Arbors, where he died.

He is survived by his five daughters, seven grandchildren, former wife Jane Creed Vera, and many acquaintances and admirers. In lieu of flowers, please carry out an act of kindness or activism. He would appreciate donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center ( to continue his fight against racism and hatred.