Resort's locals shaken by its famous family's latest island tragedy
By John Yemma, Globe Staff, 07/19/99
EDGARTOWN - Leo Convery's family has lived in this handsome old whaling town for six generations. He and his kin have seen all manner of celebrities over the years - Jimmy Cagney, Mia Farrow, and, of course, the vast, energetic Kennedy clan.
Like them or not, every Kennedy moment - the deaths, accidents, and celebrations - has somehow intersected with Convery's life.
He remembered where he was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and when the president's brother, Robert, was gunned down.
And yesterday, Convery stood not 50 feet from the Chappaquiddick ferry crossing where an accident involving Senator Edward M. Kennedy claimed the life of Mary Jo Kopechne, exactly 30 years ago yesterday.
Convery was running a pancake breakfast fund-raiser for local charities that islanders look forward to every year. The mood was amicable enough, but even people who pride themselves on averting their eyes when they see the many celebrities that visit this island could not avoid discussing the fate of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and his sister-in-law.
''It is horrible,'' Convery said. ''It casts a pall over everything. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night absolutely upset because of it.''
Margaret Steele lives on a boat in Edgartown Harbor this time of year so she can rent out her house to summer visitors. Behind her, tourists and locals did what they do every summer weekend - wandered about the dockside, drinking coffee and snapping photos.
''I sometimes can't get over the contrast between the happy times people have here and all the tragedies involving that poor family,'' Steele said.
On Saturday, she was on the water for the Wianno Sailing Regatta, watching the festive canvases snapping in the breeze as the little vessels tacked along the southern coast of the island.
But toward the Gay Head area she and all the other boaters could not take their eyes off of the red-and-white helicopters and gray Coast Guard cutters carrying out their search for Kennedy's single-engine plane.
''It just happens over and over,'' Steele said. ''I wonder if any other family of that size has that level of tragedy.''
Elaine Carroll, who owns a gift basket shop in Vineyard Haven, doesn't think so. Thirty years ago she helped truck around reporters who descended on the island following the Chappaquiddick accident.
''To have this little island and all those tragedies,'' she said, her voice trailing off.
Carroll was inundated with e-mails overnight from friends across the country. ''Everyone wanted to know what it was like here,'' she said. ''Everyone was saying how sad they were. ''
Even relative newcomers have memories of the Kennedys and other notable visitors to this famous resort.
Helio De Oliveira, who emigrated from Brazil three years ago and runs a laundry service, was unloading his van in Edgartown yesterday and stopped to recall seeing John F. Kennedy Jr. at the Vineyard Haven Airport earlier this year.
''He seemed like a very nice man, he said. ''I hope I will see him again.''
Pasted on the back of his van was a magazine photo of another of the many celebrities he has encountered in his short time here: Chelsea Clinton.
''I hope she and her family will come here again this summer,'' he said. ''But I don't know. There is so much sadness here now.''