Remembering Kent Healy

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Earlier this winter, I sat in on a webinar about the health and importance of the Island’s ponds hosted by the Great Pond Foundation (GPF), an organization concerned with the Edgartown Great Pond.

Before starting the presentation, GPF’s watershed outreach manager Dave Bouck spoke about Kent Healy, who died at age 89 in October.

“For those who may not have known [Kent], he dedicated much of his life to the stewardship of our Island water resources, as a civil engineer, as the town sewer monitor and later, as a selectman, for the Town of West Tisbury. His careful attention to detail and meticulous collection and recording of environmental data throughout many of the ponds and watersheds of the Vineyard helped to form the baseline for much of the knowledge and understanding that we possess today.”

Kent, who had a PhD in civil engineering from MIT and taught at the University of Connecticut for 20 years, was one of the founding members of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Before returning in 1983 to live year round on-Island with his wife, Maureen Flanders, and their five children, the Healys spent summers in a home here that was powered by windmills and solar panels, long before most people thought to do such things. 

After the GPF presentation, we reached out to other Islanders who were eager to share memories of Kent.

Architect John Becker wrote, “Kent was helping me lay out a guest house and septic location in the Chilmark woods, after a surprise April Fools Day blizzard had dumped over a foot of wet snow. The sky was white, the ground was white, and with no reference, my confidence was failing. But Kent pressed on. The going was tough and soon Kent (15 years my senior) noticed I was lagging way behind. He tossed me a roll of duct tape and told me to pull my pants over and outside of my boots, and to tape the pants tight around the ankle. The trick cut the “snow friction” beautifully and soon I was almost keeping up with this wiry expert at moving over rough terrain. We finished our work, and I remember a heady sense of pride in my newly acquired woodsman-ship skill. Nowadays, I look back on it and wonder: Who else but Kent could produce a roll of duct tape in the middle of nowhere?

“Kent was often amused with most peoples’ use of ‘science’ to support an agenda that may have been energized more by personal motive than by open-mindedness. His wry smile would break, he’d quicken to the occasion with questions, possibly contradictory observations — always to broaden the horizon of any issue at hand. He loved the measuring and collecting of data as much as the drawing of conclusions. Applied science was nothing without open-minded observation.”

Prudy Burt, a lifelong resident of West Tisbury and longtime volunteer advocate for the Mill Brook Stream restoration, wrote of her long working friendship with Kent. “Kent was passionate about data and facts, and adamant that anyone making any claims about water quality must have copious and comprehensive data to back up that claim. He kept a small notebook and pen in his front shirt pocket at all times. If someone stopped him at the post office to ask about when Tisbury Great Pond (TGP) was going to be opened, and claiming that the pond ‘was as high as I’ve ever seen it,’ Kent would pull out his notebook, flip to the pertinent page and say ‘No, that would have been on this date’ and then proceed with a history of high pond conditions over the last 70 years. 

“For well over 40 years, Kent went out every week and monitored TGP water levels and salinity levels, along with his routine measurements of stream flow in the two tributaries that flow into TGP — Mill Brook and the Tiasquam River. He and I would often run into each other in the woods along Mill Brook. We liked to lean on the fence at the Mill Pond dam along West Tisbury/Edgartown Road and chat about things, usually what his grandchildren were up to, or how much we enjoyed pie, knowing that people driving by were sure that we were up to no good — when we were really just enjoying a fine day outside in the sun.

“Before Kent died, he was really thrilled to make arrangements with the Great Pond Foundation to collate and digitize all of his data — notebooks, maps etc. This work is now underway.

Short story long, Kent showed up like no-one I’ve ever known, and quietly did his work every day for his whole life.”

Video recordings of all of the Island Pond Community Workshop sessions, including the final one with a tribute to Kent Healy by Great Ponds documentarian Ollie Becker, can now be found on the GPF website.

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Jamie Kageleiry
Jamie Kageleiry
Jamie Kageleiry, vice president of publishing operations at Bluedot Living, LLC, is the former associate publisher of the MVTimes Company (and an editor at Edible Vineyard and Arts & Ideas Magazines), and the former editor in chief of Martha's Vineyard Magazine. She has written on subjects ranging from baseball to brain science; car-free travel, and tree climbing for various regional and national publications, including Yankee Magazine and the Boston Globe.

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