Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
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How Gerry Got Home to Wisconsin

February 20, 2011

The news from Wisconsin and especially the photos of the state capitol in Madison have me remembering Gerry Kelly. Gerry was a colleague of mine at the Martha's Vineyard Times. He wrote news stories, he wrote editorials, he wrote book, art, and food reviews -- Bob Potts called him "the greatest one-man band in the history of journalism," and that's no exaggeration.

Gerry turned out prose like yard goods, something I've never been able to do. Sure, it often wasn't carefully crafted and sometimes it was downright sloppy, but in the news biz you've often got holes to fill with very short notice. Gerry could do the job no matter what section the hole was in.

So Gerry was from Wisconsin, but he didn't like it and had little to do with whatever family he had there. When he wasn't on Martha's Vineyard or attending hearings in Falmouth or Boston, he'd head for Mexico, which he loved and where he'd had some dangerous adventures in his younger days.

In his later years, the M.V. Times was Gerry's life and Gerry's family. After he died in 1996, Times staffers took care of the arrangements. One way or another, the urn containing Gerry's ashes wound up in the office of editor in chief Doug Cabral.

Time passed. One day, in the spring of either 1997 or 1998, several of us were hanging around the newsroom BSing after Thursday morning staff meeting. Enter Tony the computer guru and business manager. "Gerry's up in Doug's office," he said, or words to that effect. "What are we going to do with him?"

Within minutes we were volunteering to take Gerry to places he loved or places he'd always wished to visit. This one was going to Mexico. That one was going to Paris. I was going to WisCon, the great feminist science fiction convention held annually in Madison, so I volunteered to take Gerry back to his home state.

Tony went up Beach Road to the pharmacy and came back with a dozen of the small plastic vials that you get prescription pills in. We divvied up a generous portion of Gerry's ashes and each of us took at least one vial home.

When I flew to Madison at the end of May, Gerry came with me. I thought hard about where Gerry would like to rest. Gerry was a hardcore political animal, so the state capitol was a no-brainer. One sunny morning I left the Concourse, where the con was held, and strolled the two blocks or so up to the capitol. Surreptitiously -- I wasn't sure that transporting ashes across state lines was legal without a permit, and for sure I wasn't authorized to do any landscaping on the capitol grounds -- I worked half the ashes into the soil under the hedge that encircles the monumental building.

Gerry also loved the water, so on another walk I scattered the rest of the ashes on Lake Mendota.

If Gerry were alive, he'd be in the thick of the demonstrations, collecting stories and then writing them up for the paper. You wouldn't need a weatherman to know that he was 100% sympathetic to the demonstrators, and if you read between the lines you'd figure out PDQ what he thought of Scott Walker.


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