How I Got Here: Harold Hill

His working years were spent in youth services, and as a policeman, store owner, and bailiff; now that he’s retired, he’s gone back to a craft he learned as a child: wood burning, which he paints over to create colorful landscapes and more.

I became interested in moving to Martha’s Vineyard about thirty years ago through my conversations with Terry McCarthy. He was a state representative based on the Vineyard, and I was assistant regional director of Region Six [Boston] for the Department of Youth Services. I met Terry at the Golden Dome pub on Beacon Hill. A lot of state business was conducted there, and I was familiar with the place because I used to sit in the barbershop next door talking with Billy Bulger [who became president of the state senate during this time].

Terry and I were talking about various youth programs. Foster care was considered the way to go, but we were talking about setting up a different model on the Vineyard. I thought there should be a center where kids could meet their foster families. If the strain got too great once they moved in with the families, they could be sent to the center to speak with counselors, then back to the families. I saw the counselors and the center as backup. So I brought the idea to the Department of Youth Services, and they liked it.

I moved my family to the Vineyard, hoping to set up a program in Vineyard Haven. Unfortunately, there was so much fear, misunderstanding, and ignorance on the part of the people there, who kept coming up with reasons it wouldn’t work – and then the upper structure of DYS cut back programs – that it never got off the ground. Martha’s Vineyard has never made a major commitment to juvenile issues, because youth in trouble are not a high priority. The problem hasn’t exploded yet, but we need a program that’s hooked up with mental health, the schools, jobs, and the Boys and Girls Club. There’s so much money on the Island that Vineyarders and summer residents could raise funds for the program. But they don’t feel the need, because the good kids have jobs galore.

When the program stalled, I went to the police academy at age forty-four. I was probably the oldest guy there, and I had to run an eight-minute mile. People said I’d never make it through the program, but I was fifth or sixth and vice president of the class. After graduation, I became a police officer in Oak Bluffs under Peter Williamson, who was tough but fair. I got all the juvenile stuff, which I liked. Any time a juvenile was picked up, I got to counsel him, and I worked with Jack Burton, the probation officer.

I spent a lot of time on Circuit Ave-nue because of my size and experience working with people. I would deal with a lot of difficult guys without bringing my ego into the situation. I never tried to exacerbate things. One guy was running around his house with a shotgun. He’d come out running and screaming, and I just sat there until he calmed down. Another guy said only I could put the cuffs on him. Some tough guys from South Boston and Dorchester were swimming from jetty to jetty, afraid that if they came out of the water, the police would beat the hell out of them. Another cop and I talked them out. Then there was the time I got a call from the Coca-Cola plant. Three cases of Coke and some potato chips were missing. I saw a guy carrying the stuff, opened the trunk of my car, told him to put the stuff in, and cuffed him. Vineyard cops, in general, don’t believe in being violent toward people they deal with – much less than in the inner city. When you feel you’ve done the job right, police work is one of the most satisfying jobs I can imagine. “Protect and serve” is the guts of what a police officer does.

I spent five or six years on the force, which had a chief, a sergeant, and seven officers. The town had a small staff and promotions were limited, and I had a chance to go into the court system, so I bought a sporting-goods store, now defunct, on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, and became a bailiff at the courthouse in Edgartown. A bailiff opens court, collects fines, keeps order, watches prisoners, and escorts the judge in and out. I tried to be informative and helpful to people who came in full of uncertainty and fear.

A lot of courts are places where the poor whites and minorities get screwed, and the rich get off, but this court had a clerk in Tom Teller who was honest and knew the Island and its people. As a result, it was the most honest court I’ve been in. They even started paying court-appointed attorneys better about ten years ago.

After twenty-one years as a bailiff, I retired in 2000 at age sixty-five. I was on the board of the charter school, and now I run a crafts business. It’s funny how what goes around comes around. When I was eleven years old, I was playing pool at a settlement house with the other ne’er-do-wells and a beautiful B.U. student walked in. I asked somebody what she was doing there, and he said she was teaching wood burning. I became hooked. Now wood burning is one of the things I can still do and love. I do scenes of towns, wildlife, and boats on chests and boxes. I do a drawing, then stencil on top of it. Some of the tips are so fine they can burn a line as fine as a strand of hair. Then I burn the wood anywhere from 250 to 1,500 degrees and paint the scene when it comes out. Finally, I polyurethane three or four coats – water-based if it’s for something inside the house, oil-based if it’s outside. I’m the only wood burner I know in the area, and I sell my work at craft shows.

I’m glad we moved to Martha’s Vineyard. We have a ranch house in Oak Bluffs near the new fire station. My wife, Sandy, is a pediatric nurse practitioner for Dr. Michael Goldfein at the hospital, my son, Joshua, is a chef in Boston, and my daughter, Heather, is a cosmetologist at Rosecuts. More than anything, I like fishing and helping to raise my twelve-year-old grandson, Shay.