Wednesday, August 11, 2004

 

Goodbye Mr. Tankard

Here's the "Boston Globe" obituary of a gentleman (in the true sense of the word) who I first came to know as the father of my friends, and later was fortunate to develop my own friendship with:

George Tankard; brought history to tourists
By Tom Long, Globe Staff July 29, 2004
After spending four hours at a microphone leading a tour of the African-American Heritage Trail of Martha's Vineyard, George Van Buren Tankard Jr. couldn't wait to get home and tell his wife about his day . . . in agonizing detail. ''He could talk you to death," Carrie Camillo Tankard said of her husband, 70, who died of lung cancer Saturday in his Oak Bluffs home.
Mr. Tankard kept up a steady banter as the big tour bus rolled to more than a dozen stops, from the spot in Aquinnah where fugitive slave Randall Burton was hidden to the Oak Bluffs summer home of the late congressman Adam Clayton Powell.
'
'When I lead a tour I need notes or a cheat sheet, but he just spoke off the top of his head," said Mrs. Tankard, who is a cofounder of the trail.
Mr. Tankard was a man so slim he looked taller than he was. He had a smile that needed no prompting.

''He was a raconteur, who told wonderful stories," a friend, Vera Shorter of Vineyard Haven, said yesterday. ''I know I was not the only one who suggested he write a book."
Mr. Tankard was born in New York City. After serving in the Army, he moved to Newark and got a job on the assembly line at a General Motors plant.
''He was the man who put the rubber seals around the back windshield," said his wife.
The 1967 riots in Newark forced the Tankards to reconsider their life plan.
''There were bullet holes in the building," said Mrs. Tankard, ''and we were raising six children age 2 to 15."

They decided to move to Martha's Vineyard, where Mr. Tankard's mother had a home.
But there was no assembly line work on the Vineyard.
''He had six children to support. He did anything and everything," said Mrs. Tankard.
He worked on a cesspool truck and did masonry, but neither was for him. After working for a time for a painting contractor, Mr. Tankard decided he'd found his calling and went into business for himself.

''He figured he was doing the work, why not make the money?" said his wife.
For more than 20 years, Mr. Tankard painted houses. When business was good he hired his sisters, his children, and their friends. Through it all he kept up a steady banter.
''He was a history buff who read everything he could get his hands on, books about World War II, the Irish famine, whatever," said his wife.
And when he wasn't reading he was watching the History Channel or The Learning Channel on TV.

''He knew something about everything," said his wife, who recalled waking up once in the middle of the night to find her husband watching TV.
''Did you know how they make toilets?" asked Mr. Tankard who was watching a show on the subject.

Mr. Tankard, a longtime member of the Martha's Vineyard NAACP, finally did get around to writing that book. ''Island Rescue" is the title of his memoir, which has yet to be published.
''He never got rich in the monetary sense, but he was rich in the people who loved and respected him," said Shorter.

''God is probably up there now saying, George, will you please shut up," said Mrs. Tankard.
Besides his wife, he leaves three daughters, Carmen Amadeo of Bourne; Lynda Gonsalves of Wareham; and Stephanie Earl of Kansas; three sons, George V. III of Louisiana; Craig of Martha's Vineyard; and Felip of Boston; two brothers, Robert of Vineyard Haven and Reginald of Roselle, N.J.; seven sisters, Patricia, Audria and Brenda, all of Brookline; Carol Giosmas of Oak Bluffs; and Shirley Robinson, Merle Beaulieu, and Myrna Araujo of Vineyard Haven; and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in the fall.

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