There are a couple of old sayings that sum up our feelings when important people in our lives pass away.
The ranks are thinning, you will hear, as well as that the cemeteries are filled with irreplaceable people.
Both statements are true and untrue, since every day people pick up a fallen standard. Even though we’re diminished by the deaths of those who have dedicated their unique lives to doing good, there are always others who are ready to replace them.
A family mourns loved ones who are gone, but a community can also mourn the loss of people who thin the ranks by their passing.
This year on Shelter Island we saw people in our community who were not defined by bottom lines but by the service and spirit they gave to all of us.
The death of Reverend Canon Paul Wancura continues to shock Islanders for its brutality and senselessness.
One taken too young is always difficult, but Barry Ryder’s death at 55 was a shock. He was a man who lived life fully. Barry was an avid outdoorsman, spending countless hours hunting and fishing the lands and waters of his beloved Island. An employee of the Shelter Island Highway Department for 32 years, Barry was a dedicated volunteer of the Betsy Jane Gibbs for over 30 years, serving as chief from 1991 to 1992, and again from 2005 to 2006.
We also remember Betsy Jane Gibbs, who gave her all for the community as a devoted Shelter Island School special education teacher for K-12 students. Betsy was an active member of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church and served the church in many roles, working with the youth of the town and the community at large. She was a member of both the American Legion Auxiliary and the Shelter Island Fire Department Auxiliary.
Another Islander who gave time and effort to fellow Islanders was Tom Morritt. Tom was a volunteer guide at The Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve; a member of the Lions Club; a supporter of the Shelter Island Meals on Wheels program; and a community volunteer helping others by driving to doctors and grocery shopping through the Shelter Island Office for Senior Services.
And Richard Varney passed away this year, an inspirational man who looked to poetry — and now has added his name to the library’s Art/Rich Poetry Roundtable — to learn, share and explore the highest form of the language with his fellow Islanders.
Rich would understand what the deaths in 2018 of the many Islanders who lived life to the fullest meant to all of us. Rich would also agree with Emily Dickinson:
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –