Text & photos by SHERRI RASE
September 8 dawned clear and beautiful, with a light
breeze. It was a day Bill Silver, who died the Saturday of Memorial Day
this year, would have most appreciated. Had he lived till this day, he
would have been 60 years old.
Bill Silver was known to most of us in Cherry Grove as the
publisher of Violet’s “Wild Cherry”, the monthly “here’s what’s going on” flyer
that we all picked up immediately when we set foot on the island. One
stop shopping, the lavendar brochure listed nearly
every happening in our community and was a tremendous resource for the
residents and visitors in our town. “Wild Cherry” was just the tip of the
iceberg of the amazing works of this incredible man.
Truly a gentleman and a scholar, Bill was born September 8,
1947. His life spanned decades of vast cultural change in the US –
cultural change in which he played a tremendous part.
During the 1950s and 60s, Bill studied art at the Carnegie
Museum and all over Pittsburgh. Spring 1969, he graduated from Ohio
Wesleyan University both magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. His first
visit to Fire Island was during a religious retreat to the Pines in 1971, and
though still closeted, he began one of the longest love affairs of his life
with a small barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean.
Dan Jennings and Bill met in late 1974 and fell in love.
They first came to the Grove in 1975. They returned each summer to either the
Grove or the Pines for many years, even after their love became a warm, deep
friendship. At Bill’s service, Dan spoke eloquently about Bill’s year revolving
not around the calendar, but around his time spent behind Violet’s Gate.
Bill began to create the change he wanted to see in the world in
1975. He was working in the art and theatre program of the Central
Presbyterian church when he applied for ordination. Waves were created
when he did so as the first openly gay candidate to pursue his divinity
work. In 1976 a task force was created on behalf of the New York
Presbytery by the national governing body to determine whether Bill should be
ordained. In 1978, it was decided that Bill could not pursue his ministry
through the Presbyterian church. Bill was bloodied, but unbowed and came
to Fire Island to regroup.
Throughout the 80s Bill worked in advertising research for
magazines like “Bon Appetit” and “Architectural
Digest”. He continued to be an activist, and many of his friends from
that time talk about his ministry continuing, despite lack of ordination.
He always listened, counseled, prevailed. And though he was unaware of it
at the time, HIV became a part of his life.
The Mineshaft was a favorite “second office” for Bill and he
would often meet friends there. When it closed in 1985, he was ready for
a change and Violet was “born”. With Violet, Bill’s love for all things
purple – truly purple – was shared with everyone he knew.
Violet and Bill loved growing things. Whether nurturing
cats or flowers, you could count on them. Gardening passion led Bill and
like-minded friends to form the Garden Club in Cherry Grove in 1995. The
founders first met in May 1995 and the gardens and the club have been growing
ever since. May 1996, the flowering of Violet’s “Wild Cherry” began with
Bill as Publisher and Violet as Editor-in-Chief, encouraging many to believe
they were not the same person. In 1997, Bill begins to suffer from HIV
related challenges. Undaunted, Violet held her first Purple Tea in 1998.
The new millennium brought a move to Violet’s Gate, a pied a terre so intimate that company must be invited in threes,
and a changing of the guard had to occur several times when Bill would show his
paintings. His good works were recognized by the Cherry Grove Community
Association when they gave him their Community Service Award in 2006. His
service was also recognized at that time with proclamations from the Suffolk
County Executive and Legislature, and the New York State Senate and
Assembly. He never sought recognition, but those around him knew his
It was early October 2006 when Bill left for the season, not
knowing he would not return. His health continued to decline during the
winter and into the Spring, but he still made plans to move to the Grove on
Memorial Day. Bill died at Beth Israel Hospital on May 26, 2007.
Earlier this month a plaque was unveiled in his honor at the Cherry Grove
Through the sounds of the boats in the Great South Bay,
gathering for Miss Fire Island, you could sense Bill’s presence among the
people who had gathered at Mel and Don’s to honor him. Some knew him
well, others had traded only a few words or a smile and a glance but Bill’s
gift continues to be his place in the fabric of our community.