I was saddened this morning to learn that an old friend, the wonderful Art Railton, has passed away.
I first came across Art when I was researching my first non-fiction book about women who whaling under sail, Petticoat Whalers. He was intensely interested in my project, and wrote me many letters, both helpful and tongue-in-cheek. Was I coming to the Vineyard? Yes. How would he recognize a New Zealander? Did I dress differently, was I tattooed, would I perform a haka?
As you can imagine, I was as unsure what to expect as he was. The reality was a distinct relief! Then he introduced me to a meeting of Vineyarders in general, and the Dukes County Historical Society (since metamorphosed into the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society) in particular. He said wonderful things that I don't remember -- what I do remember is the kiss this Father Christmaslike figure dropped on my head at the end of his speech. It was absolutely heartwarming.
I met Art many times after that. I would swan into the Society library after a 25-hour flight, quite unannounced, put my hands over his eyes, and say, "Guess who."
He never guessed wrong.
I guess it was my accent.
We worked together, too. I wrote stories for his journal, The Dukes County Intelligencer, which he occasionally lengthened beyond all reason, simply because of his huge enthusiasm. When I needed images or information, he was generosity personified. He wrote kind reviews of my books, and published them. When the internet came along, we grumbled about the world in long emails, and theorized passionately about how to set it right.
Art lived a long and rich life, probably longer than he wished. He never got over the loss of his very dearly beloved wife, Marg, who passed away in 2000. When I saw him last, in September 2009, he confided to me that it was time to go.