MARTHA’S VINEYARD — Step off the ferry at the picturesque town of Vineyard Haven, and you’ll see a sticker in store windows along Main Street. Each is emblazoned with a red heart with “PAT” written beneath it. They represent a simple but profound testament of love and loss for one of the island’s own, Pat Gregory.
The ferries from the mainland are heavy these days with cars, bikes, people, and pets as this community braces for another hectic summer season. Vacationers, anxious for a long-awaited island idyll, may not notice the stickers. But the Vineyard’s 16,000 year-round residents do. For them, community is everything. And Francis “Pat” Gregory was a pillar.
“He was central to the island way of life,” says close friend Ted Desrosiers. “He gave of himself to everybody.”
On May 16, Gregory and a friend were hiking on the Iron Canyon Trail in Northern California, near the small town of Red Bluff, when they were robbed and shot. Gregory, who had recently turned 69, died at the scene. His friend, from California, was critically injured but is recovering. The killer is still at large. According to police, neither victim resisted the robbery.
“This is a well-used trail, and we’ve never had anything of this nature in that area,” says Tehama County Sheriff Dave Hencratt. “This was random. It’s just really, really sad, and we are working hard on following up leads and tips.”
Gregory’s death shook the island almost as forcefully as any hurricane has. As one online comment on a Vineyard Gazette story about him noted: “The ugliness and cruelty of the outside world has pierced the safe, loving ‘bubble’ we all experience and cherish here on the Vineyard.”
At his memorial service in Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, a crowd of 1,000 people showed up. Doubtless, many of them considered themselves his close friend. Gregory picked up friends like others pick up seashells — by the bucketful.
“Everybody’s a friend of Pat’s, and if you’re not, you want to be,” says Barbara Reynolds, who taught school with him. His obituary said: “Pat leaves behind many friends — too many to count.”
Though not an island native — he moved there as a young teacher in 1973 — Gregory became a mainstay of Vineyard life. For 23 years, he was town moderator of West Tisbury. In the early 1980s, he helped bring computer technology to the schools and the island, and he and his wife, Dorothy, still own Educomp, a computer and office-supply store in Vineyard Haven.
For years, he refereed youth soccer, long after he no longer had a child playing, and served as treasurer of Friends of Vineyard Soccer. He was on many boards, including ones for Vineyard House, which provides shelter for those struggling with substance abuse; the Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard; and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. He was a member of the Tisbury Business Association. He helped organize road races to raise money for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, whose board he also served on.
“He was always saying yes for so many years,” says Chris Decker, who owns the Tisbury Printer, a printing company, and refereed with Gregory. “He’d bring young kids into the soccer program who needed some guidance. He always saw the best in people. The weird thing is that everyone knew him.”
Sally Tanner is one who knew him, but not well. “It tipped the island upside down when it happened,” says Tanner, of Gregory’s death. “It is absolutely devastating. It is amazing the people who didn’t really know him who feel that way, and that says something about him.”
As town moderator for nearly a quarter of a century, Gregory earned a reputation as a respectful leader who nonetheless moved each agenda along. “He did it with a balance of humor and professionalism, with a half-smile that was infectious and wonderful,” says Chris Morse, who owns The Granary Gallery in West Tisbury. “If people were just up there to hear themselves talk, he would stop them. He was the only town moderator who could finish business in one night.”
Susan Goldstein met Gregory four decades ago, when they taught an open classroom of 65 students at the West Tisbury School. “Pat and I couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds,” says Goldstein, who owns the Mansion House Inn spa and restaurant in Vineyard Haven. “I was a New York City Jew, and he was an upstate [New York] altar boy. I was a hippie, and he was married with a 6-year-old. I was a language-arts teacher; he was math.” They taught together for nearly 10 years, and they, along with their spouses, became and remained close friends.
Every year, Goldstein and Gregory took their students on an off-island trip, to New York, or Washington, D.C., or to visit a college campus. “Pat went and got a bus license so he could drive the kids,” Goldstein says.
He also went and got a second master’s degree, taking a sabbatical to study computer science at the Florida Institute of Technology. “He saw that computers would be a mainstay of teaching,” says Goldstein. “He brought back the knowledge, and we began using computers in the classroom. It was very radical back then.” In 1982, he left teaching and opened Educomp.
“My husband and I know that if the man who killed him had asked for Pat’s help, Pat would have made this man’s life better,” Goldstein says. “No one has any doubt that he would have said, ‘You need money? What can I do to help you?’ ’’
Chris Morse is 25 years younger than Gregory but considered him one of his closest friends. The two were golf buddies, playing locally and traveling to Scotland and Ireland to play. “We walked two 36-holes back to back, and I was done,” says Morse. “But Pat still had a smile on his face, and he would have done more.”
Gregory was proud of his Irish roots, and named his daughter Shannon. On one golfing trip to Ireland, he and Morse sought out the town of Shannon, where Gregory took numerous photos. On his Facebook page, where he had hundreds of “friends,” he got 74 birthday greetings on April 6. His last post, six days before he died, was to share a photo of his deceased sister and comment that “her spirit lives forever.”
Last Dec. 23, he posted: “It was, gulp, 48 years ago . . . I met Dorothy Lacombe who was to become the love of my life.” On July 1, the couple would have been married 47 years.
Family meant everything to him, and in the past few years, after his daughter moved back to the island with her husband and two children, Gregory started to cut back on his business and volunteer activities. He and Dorothy were helping take care of the grandchildren while the parents worked. It was a job he loved.
Last August, he posted: “Nearly met the President yesterday but had to miss him to go to the Fair with Jack & Bess,” his grandchildren.
For the upcoming July 4, he had gotten tickets to take his 92-year-old mother to see the Red Sox, her first trip to Fenway Park in 70 years. Friends say he was planning to have her visit announced in a message on the scoreboard.
Shannon Gregory Carbon, who teaches in the Tisbury schools, said the family was not ready to speak to the Globe about her father. But at his memorial service, she called him “a man of uncommon decency,” and her brother, Timothy, called his dad “a believer in the human spirit.”
Ted Desrosiers says he and Gregory were like brothers. Their offices are nearby, and they went to the gym together three times a week, played golf three times a week, and had lunch twice a week. “The reason we were so close was that I was the only one who challenged his niceness,” says Desrosiers, a stockbroker.
“Everything you’ve heard about how nice he was is absolutely true,” says Desrosiers. “But we had the sibling rivalry thing going, and I can give you a thousand examples of how we tortured each other.”
There was, for instance, the Bob Cousy book. About 20 years ago, Gregory asked Desrosiers if he wanted to read a yellowing, dog-eared memoir that “he’d probably picked up at a yard sale.” Desrosiers said no thanks, he wasn’t interested.
And then the book started showing up. “He left it on my desk,” says Desrosiers, 64. “He started hiding it in my office, and I’d find it six months later. And then I’d hide it in his office. And then it would show up in my car.” Back and forth the book went. Desrosiers even once FedExed it to Gregory’s hotel in Scotland. “It cost me like 40 bucks.”
With his son-in-law managing Educomp, Gregory had begun to travel and play more golf. “He really appreciated where he was at in life,” says Desrosiers. “A lot of people don’t appreciate what they’ve got, and Pat really saw his life as perfect.”
About that Bob Cousy book: “The fact is, I don’t know where it is right now. I don’t know whose turn it was.” But if it was Gregory’s turn, Desrosiers has no doubt that it will turn up somewhere, somehow.