Known to her friends and acquaintances as Nan, Caroline Young Rheault died on Aug. 29 at her home surrounded by family. Her bout with cancer, diagnosed only this summer, failed to subdue her until the very end; only last May in France she bought herself a new bicycle. Here on the Vineyard she continued her long practice of pedaling from her house off Barnes Road on Lagoon Pond to points north, south, east and west. Even as late as August she popped into town to do errands, her lively conversation and sparkly wit so intact that few suspected - perhaps not even Nan herself - that little time was left to her.
Always charmingly evasive about her exact age, Nan's wish to remain indefinite on this score will be honored in the following account: In her youth she attended schools on Long Island and in Connecticut and New York city, graduating from Chapin in 1945. She attended Vassar College, and in 1947 Nan married West Point graduate Robert B. Rheault. Together they spent many years in places such as Paris, Okinawa and Germany, where their oldest child, Susanne, was born. Intermixed with their overseas postings the couple - soon to add two more children to the brood, Michele and Robert Jr. - lived in locales as diverse as West Point, Washington D.C., Kansas, Georgia and Pennsylvania. These years of her husband's military career included Colonel Rheault's three tours of duty in war zones, and over time the family had 17 different homes in 22 years. Undaunted, Nan instilled in her children a constant sense of adventure, love of learning and comfort in hearth and home no matter how moveable that same home happened to be. During these pivotal military years, Nan pursued her painting, worked as a volunteer for the Army Services and, during the Vietnam era, organized a support and advocacy group called Waiting Wives.
Over Nan's lifetime she painted and sold more than 100 pastel portraits, chiefly of children, in addition to many sea and landscapes of Martha's Vineyard. She illustrated three books, and along the way found the time to design a map for the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. With Jack Mayhew she recorded Season of Sounds of Martha's Vineyard, replete with bell buoy clangs and the squawk of seagulls. An adept figure skater (she took up the sport at the age of 50), she initiated the building of the Martha's Vineyard Arena. She also sailed, waterskied and loved to swim. At 55, she earned her certification for scuba diving.
In 1980 Nan began her own business called Bicycling in France, with an emphasis on trips to the Loire Valley, the Dordogne and Provence; each day's cycling was suitably celebrated with dinner and lodging in a small village inn. Nan led these tours as a successful commercial enterprise for 13 years, continuing up until recent times on a nonprofit basis. Her love of France, encyclopedic knowledge of the country's history and fluency with the language inspired her in the 1990s to buy a house in St. Remy.
Another passion of Nan's was gardening. Some years ago she completed a landscape design course at Harvard which deepened her devotion to her own extensive garden and to Vineyard gardens in general; she created landscapes for others, and was active in the Martha's Vineyard Garden Club. Every year she garnered blue ribbons at the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair for her home-grown entries of produce and floral arrangements. In keeping with her love of nature, she supported a number of environmental causes, including the Lagoon Pond Association and a project co-created with John Abrams of South Mountain to fund a wind-turbine site behind the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, along with instruction for students to construct and maintain windmills.
A voracious reader, devotee of the arts and lover of laughter, she easily buoyed the mood of everyone she encountered in the course of a day's excursion, usually by bicycle, from her home. All who knew her were struck by her vitality, her keen intellectual curiosity, her delight in discussing anything from eggplant marinara to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and her amazing, boundless generosity. Nan's tireless involvement with her community included service on the board of Camp Jabberwocky, window showcase design and fund-raising for the Martha's Vineyard Community Services Thrift Shop, and the crusade to save the Southern Woodlands.
Nan is survived by her three children, Susanne Rheault and her husband, Gilbert Williams, of Lincoln; Michele Miller and her husband, Jim Hill, of Boulder, Colo.; and Robert B. Rheault Jr. and his wife, Ann, of Wakefield, R.I. Nan was a devoted grandmother to Dustin Miller, 22, Zachary Rheault Gardner, 16, Benjamin Rheault, 15, and Sarah Rheault, 13.
A memorial service will be held on Monday, Sept. 11, at 11 a.m. at the West Tisbury Congregational Church on State Road in West Tisbury, with arrangements provided by Chapman, Cole, and Gleason Funeral Home in Oak Bluffs. In lieu of flowers, donations to the following organizations will be much appreciated by the Rheault family: Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard, P.O. Box 1093, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 and/or the High School Wind Turbine Project, South Mountain Company Foundation, P.O. Box 1260, West Tisbury MA, 02575.
Editor's Note: This story has been changed from an earlier version to correct her date of death.