After all of my years working on Martha’s Vineyard, I can count on one hand the number of clients that I can still call my “regulars,” those whom I can anticipate seeing whenever they find their way to the island, since my first season. This past Saturday that number decreased by one. Mike Wallace, a Vineyard summer resident for more years than many can remember, died at the age of 93. Though the Wallace property was sold last year, it is only now that people will come to the realization that an era has come to and end on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.
I must first say that it is not customary for me to invoke the names of my clients, out of a sense of professionalism. But “Mike,” as he insisted on being called, as opposed to “Mr. Wallace,” had a candid demeanor about him and he was responsible for several generations of his extended family, as well as many of his friends, becoming my clients. Truth be told, I always addressed him as “sir.” While I believe it was also Mike’s way to address many people with whom he spoke, whenever he greeted me with a “good to see you, my friend,” I also believe it was genuine and heartfelt.
While exchanging general pleasantries was usually the extent of our conversation, the usual goings on about town was a topic that often came up. Seasonal residents have an entire winter’s worth of changes to catch up on when they first arrive; new businesses that have opened, old ones that have closed, houses that have sold, etc. For many years Mike would leave my office at the end of my work day and he would say that he had a Sopranos episode to watch with “Bill and Artie.”
Often Mike would walk into the office without an appointment scheduled, asking “would Jason happen to have any time for me today?” I could hear his unmistakable voice in the office every time. I grew up watching “60 Minutes” and he was an American institution. Still, I never had the impression that he had an air of entitlement when dealing with him. It was interesting to watch the reactions of other clients that happened to be in the office when Mike was; they were almost always speechless and star-struck. The rapport Mike and I had was professional, but certainly more familiar than formal.
Of all the “notable” clients I have had over the years, Mike endeared himself to me on more levels than many, if not all, of the other such clients. He had that ability with most people he met, I believe, judging by what I witnessed over the years. I feel that it was his ability to be genuine and frank; no pretense, no hidden agenda. While many clients that I have worked with over the years can barely remember my first name, Mike knew my full name.
One time I was chatting with someone on the sidewalk in front of my office in Vineyard Haven when Mike approached me. He explained that he had left he wallet at the house and needed to pick-up lunch; would I be able to front him some money that he could repay when he came in later that day? Certainly, “how much,” I asked. I ended up fronting him a fin, which he promptly returned later that day when he came in for a session. The person with whom I had been speaking was left speechless. Priceless.
For the two winters I worked in New York City, commuting back and forth every week, Mike was a client there as well. A chance meeting with his wife Mary on the Upper West Side one day made the city seem more like the Vineyard, if only for a moment. Still, it was always summers on Martha’s Vineyard where the Wallace clan would be able to escape and just relax in true Vineyard style.
Now there seems to be a chapter ending for our little Island. The “Possible Dreams Auction” has lost the celebrities that were institutions at the annual summer event. Many of the clients I looked forward to catching up with each season will no longer be returning to Martha’s Vineyard. There have been thousands of clients passing through my office over seasons past; hundreds became regulars for a period of time. A few dozen have remained seasonal clients, returning for ever shorter periods of time as the years pass. In all sincerity, I can say without hesitation, that there will only be one Mike Wallace, and he shall be missed.