Clifton Hillman Athearn, a native son of West Tisbury, died on Dec. 12, 2023 at his home in West Tisbury. He was 100.

He was born about a half-mile from there in 1923, the youngest of four children including Elmer (Mike), Leonard and Louise. The farmhouse he was born in, now the home of Simon and Robyn Athearn, was on a 21-acre farm near Tisbury Great Pond that had been in the family of Clif’s mother, the Looks, for many years.

Clif did his farm chores, attended the West Tisbury School across the brook and enjoyed his mother’s daily servings of gingerbread, meat and vegetables from the farm and ducks and eels from the Great Pond. He attended Tisbury High School and upon graduation worked with his father spraying gypsy moths for a state project. He also worked as an orderly at the Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven, which gave him a varied medical experience that set the stage for his role in World War II.

At the age of 19 and on the last day of 1942 he entered the Army Air Force for basic training in Utah. He went on to a medical laboratory school in Indiana and was then assigned to a medical lab in Idaho. After a year and a half he was assigned to an infantry unit in France, and then another round of training to do “the rough stuff,” marching and shooting guns.

He joined the 317th Infantry Regiment with an M-1 rifle as they were pushing the Germans back into Germany. The army looked at his records, discovered his medical training and, as Clif stated in his interview with Linsey Lee for her book Vineyard Voices Three, “They gave me a helmet with red crosses on it and took my rifle.” Clif then continued with his unit into Germany as a medic, keeping track of the villages and towns they passed through in his pocket notebook, including the first discovery of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

After his discharge in 1946, Clif returned to the United States and went to Rutgers to study medical laboratory technology, which became his life’s work at a hospital in Newark, N.J.

He would return to the Vineyard for summer vacations, staying in the house he inherited from his aunt Lena MacNeil across from the Mill Pond, the house where his grandfather was born. In 1957, he had electricity and indoor plumbing installed for the first time and carefully sorted the accumulation of artifacts from the previous 100 years of living, creating a living space that was as much a museum as a residence. He returned there to live permanently upon retirement in 1986.

Clif was a quiet man. He never married and he seemed content with what life offered him. He always sent his niece and nephews a much-appreciated $5 bill each at Christmas, and as as that generation grew he provided them with seemingly-small favors that made large impacts on their advancement through life.

A surprising discovery of scrapbooks in his closet of Island lore showed his unstated devotion to his family. For more than 50 years he filled several books with newspaper and magazine clippings containing news of a nephew, niece or brother and later his grand-nephews and nieces as well.

In his retirement many people came to know him as the man they would see walking past the Mill Pond to Alley’s General Store for his mail. Or sitting on the porch there with the other bench-sitters who at one period included his two brothers.

On his 100th birthday last June Clif enjoyed being honored by his extended family, neighbors and caregivers for a cook-out on an ideal evening in his backyard.

Clifton is survived by his nephews George Athearn, Jim and Debbie Athearn, John Athearn, Charlie and Stevie Kernick, and by his niece Connie Taylor and her husband Bob. He also leaves his grand-nephews and nieces and their spouses: Kellie and Jack Simoes, Tyler and Kristina Kernick, Matthew and Carrie Taylor, Susie Taylor, Morgan and Lance Dimond, Brian and Kate Athearn, Prudence and Josh Levy, Simon and Robyn Athearn, Daniel and Meeghan Athearn; and great-grand nephews and nieces, Hunter and Emmett Athearn, Kane and Ronin Parsons, Kyle and Judah Levy, Rose, Ignatius and Alden Athearn, Clara, Zebediah and Penelope Athearn, Story and Weston Taylor, Alexandra Lema, Lauren, Christian and Kason Simoes, and Anabella and Charli Sue Kernick.

He was interred in a service officiated by Rev. Cathlin Baker on Dec. 23, 2023 at the West Tisbury cemetery, alongside the graves of his father, mother and brother.