Island mourns loss of beloved Grace Grossman

By Marianne R. Stanton I & M Editor And Jim Kinsella I & M Staff Writer

Jul 29, 2004

Grace Grossman, the island's diminutive but ardent champion on the Steamship Authority board of governors for the past eight years, and benefactor of countless nonprofit organizations from Landmark House and Small Friends to the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and Cape Cod Community College, died Thursday, July 22 at her Wauwinet Road home after a brief illness. She was 80.

The news stunned her many, many friends and colleagues on island and off. Flags were lowered to half staff at the Steamship Authority and Cape Cod Community College. Less than a week after her death, friends were still reeling from the loss.

For me and my family, we couldn't be sadder. It's like we lost a member of our family, said Tim Madden, Nantucket's legislative liaison who lived across the street from Grossman in Wauwinet. As for Steamship Authority issues, if not for Grace, God knows where we'd be, probably New Bedford. Grace was unwavering in her views. But when you're right, you don't need to waver.

Her connection to the island was deep and personal. She touched anyone who ever spent any amount of time with her. They saw her priorities, her loyalties and her values, right up front.

She was Nantucket. And regardless of anyone's opinion of her or her work or her opinions, she commanded everyone's respect, said Nat Lowell, a trucker for Yates gas who had worked with Grossman on SSA issues for years. She loved her husband like Nancy Reagan loved her husband. It was just like he was still there. She would say, I talked to Bernie last night.

In fact it was her love for her husband and admiration of his ideals which landed her on the Steamship Authority in 1996. When Bernard Grossman died, she was tapped to fill his unexpired term on the board of governors by Rep. Eric Turkington and then appointed by the Board of Selectmen to fill the vacancy.

In no time she threw herself into her role on the Steamship Authority wholeheartedly, fulfilling a mission her husband had started in the interest of the Nantucket people she loved so much. In this role she was able to stay close to the memory of her husband and the people of Nantucket who sustained her.

She had the best interest of all Nantucket people at heart. I didn't agree with everything she said, but boy, did I listen. She was like Ted Williams she had that aura, said Lowell.

Flint Ranney, Nantucket's representative to the Port Council, was on a cruise in Norway at the time of Grossman's death. He sent his thoughts about his dear friend and mentor to The Inquirer and Mirror via email.

My wife and I are deeply saddened by the loss of our good friend and mentor, Grace Grossman. Grace will always remain in our hearts as a stalwart supporter of everything Nantucket. She had a great sense of humor and enjoyed a good laugh, even at her own expense.

She loved one of her nicknames (there were others!) Mother Trucker, and seemed to revel in being called a stubborn jackass when she was fighting for better and lower cost service for Nantucketers. When she couldn't obtain free tickets for the visiting French choir, she generously paid for them herself.

Grace worried about others far more than herself, leaving a legacy of good will and financial support for the Conservation Foundation, the Cottage Hospital, the Nantucket Historical Association (where she founded the highly successful Museum Shop and operated it for several years without any compensation), and many other organizations including the Rotary Club of Nantucket that she proudly joined just last year. Their motto is, Service Above Self, which is exactly what Grace exemplified.

In her years of service to Nantucket, she brought many positive aspects to the Steamship Authority, always with the background that the SSA is our lifeline and must be protected for Nantucket citizens, whatever else happens. Regarding a potential split of the boat line, she always told me that if a split was good for Nantucket, it would work, and if not, we would just have to keep up the demands for improvements in the existing SSA. But she was convinced that a Nantucket-Hyannis route could be more efficient and operate at less cost to the travelers.

Her lively spirit will be sorely missed. But her memory remains to guide us into the future.

While much of her life was devoted to public service, Grace always had time for people, and valued her many friendships which crossed generations and socio-economic bounds. She started every morning, up until recently with breakfast at the Downyflake at 6:45 with a regular crew that consisted of tradesmen and friends from the yacht club. From there she was on to work, usually into her office on Federal Street by 8 a.m., usually until long after the sun went down. It was a hub of activity, even on weekends. Almost all of her work there focused on the Steamship Authority.

Her work in community service began long before she moved to Nantucket nearly 40 years ago, when she volunteered at the Newton Wellesley Hospital, and later worked for both Old Sturbridge Village and established a museum shop fro the John F. Kennedy Library. That expertise was translated into opening a museum shop for the Nantucket Historical Association's Whaling Museum, to help that organization boost its revenues long before the advent of the summer charity event.

Since then she was involved in countless community organizations including the Landmark House, the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, the Nantucket Atheneum - where she was a major fundraiser for their initial capital campaign – the Boys and Girls Club, and most recently the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, where she spearheaded an effort to preserve the University of Massachusetts Field Station.

The driving force behind her community work was to improve life for the year round Nantucket community. She was passionate about what she did and worried that the changes on the island, and those that were on the horizon, would only make life more difficult for the working person living on Nantucket.

Ron Rappaport, former Vineyard SSA member had an islander's perspective on his friend and colleague.

I had the privilege of serving on the board with both Bernie and Grace Three years with Bernie, five years with Grace. It was an absolute pleasure to serve with both of them. Grace was like a rock. She had core principles and she never wavered from them. She had a moral compass that was unchangeable. She and Bernie cared about the little people. They cared about the cost of groceries.

For people who had to use the SSA lifeline, they wanted to keep it affordable, he said, yet they didn't care about personal glory or gain.

I often called them the ultimate public servants. It's unimaginable to me that there will be another family like the Grossmans playing a role (in Nantucket affairs). It's a huge loss. While he was on the SSA board, it was a rare occasion when Nantucket and the Vineyard didn't vote together. When she was on your side, no one was a better ally. She was the best politician in southeastern Massachusetts.

Representative Eric Turkington who, with Grossman, fought a losing battle against legislation sponsored by New Bedford to change the makeup of the boatline, praised his colleague.

We went through the war together, and in a war, there was no one better to have in the foxhole next to you. It was a fairly lonely fight at times. She was always there carrying the flag and the mortar and the grenades. She was wonderful. What a strong woman she was. There was nothing in it for her. It was because it was her people, her island, said Turkington.

A memorial service will be held this Friday at 1 p.m. at the Unitarian Church on Orange Street, followed by a reception with the family at the Nantucket Yacht Club.

I&M Managing Editor Joshua Balling contributed to this story.