Ed Jerome, Educator, Fisherman, Gentleman

Sep 21, 2018

Credit Nelson Sigelman

If a community is lucky, it has an Ed Jerome. A “go to” person.

Ed Jerome of Edgartown died suddenly Tuesday, September 18. The news rippled across Martha’s Vineyard in small Island waves: word-of-mouth, Facebook posts, conversation in coffee shops.

The retired Edgartown School principal and longtime — forever, it seemed — president of the nonprofit Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, was a great guy.

I knew him as a fisherman first, then as a member of the Derby committee, and later when I worked as a news reporter, as a respected Island educator. His death was sad news for the entire Island and extended fishing community. No matter the organization, Ed’s was always the firm guiding hand.

He led the Edgartown School for 26 years. When he retired he figured he’d go fishing and play golf. But when a sudden leadership void occurred in the regional school district, he stepped up to be interim superintendent. Later, he served as interim principal at the West Tisbury School. That was in addition to numerous committees and boards. I never heard a disparaging word about him, which is an accomplishment in its own right — we do like to gossip.

But it was as president of the Derby committee, which runs the nonprofit, where his ability to referee schoolyard battles carried the day. I served on the committee for ten years. Trying to reach consensus in a room full of fishermen would test the patience of any man or woman.

Ed was a consensus builder. He was a listener. Above all, he was a gentleman. If there was an issue, the first question was: “Have you talked to Ed?”

Ed and I did not always agree on derby policy, but I always appreciated his thoughtful approach, and I valued our conversations about fishing, Island politics, and life in general.

Ed’s contributions to the Derby, now a fixture of Island life, cannot be overstated. This small fishing tournament, conceived in 1946 as a way to attract visitors and bolster the off-season economy, is celebrating its 73rd year. It annually attracts more than 3,000 entrants over five weeks in September and October.

Think about it. If you consider the effects of all that fishing on spouses and employers, short of a power outage, no other event has a greater impact on Vineyard life. Far more than a fishing contest, it is has become an annual reunion of individuals bound in spirit.

On the practical side, last year the Derby awarded $37,500 in scholarships to Island high school graduates. Ed was the driving force behind the scholarship program.

Some time ago Ed suffered a near fatal heart attack. Quick work in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital emergency room saved his life.

Ed bounced back. He ran a successful charter fishing boat that allowed him to do what he enjoyed — talk to people and take them fishing. And he spent the cold, damp Island winters in Florida, working on his seemingly ever-present tan.

Many years ago, I was walking through the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. An elderly man collapsed after stepping off an escalator. A group of teens thought it was funny. How sad, I thought, to have drawn his last breath among strangers. The image stayed with me. I value the closeness of our small, caring community.

Ed will be missed. But it is comforting to know that he died on the Island that he loved, doing what he loved — shellfishing in Sengekontacket Pond in Edgartown with fishermen nearby. And it was Derby time.

I can tell you when the current will begin to ebb off Wasque Point and the rip will form that attracts Derby winning blues and striped bass. But the tide of life is not predictable. It is drawn by different forces than those that affect the sea that surrounds our Island. And one day it falls for each of us. Fair tides, Ed Jerome.