Bill and Margie Comings are this year’s Bayberry Wreath honorees
Bill Comings tells of the first time he set foot on Block Island.
“I came here involuntarily at the age of 18 months,” he said, laughing. “My parents rented a house at Red Gate Farm.”
He and his wife Margie bought their first plot of land in 1966 (they were high school sweethearts having met at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey), and because of their love of the island and their work to help preserve and conserve the land they and others live on, Margie and Bill Comings have been named the 2019 recipients of the Bayberry Wreath Award.
They built a house on that plot — “Bobby Rose built it. It was the third house he built,” said Bill — because they wanted their children to “have the same experience we did,” said Bill. They both worked in local restaurants. “We were called waitresses back then,” said Margie. “We weren’t servers.”
When asked how their appreciation for nature came about, Bill said they arrived here “before Block Island became popular. Nature was always around us. There wasn’t really conservation, it was just a simple life,” said Bill. “Today, it’s very different.”
The Comings donated money for the preservation of Rodman’s Hollow, remembering how former Town Councilor and business owner Jack Gray, who was also a neighbor, came over to their house and wouldn’t leave without a check to help purchase the property.
“It was not a lot of money, but it was not money we had,” said Bill.
Margie Comings said their son Scott, who is the Associate State Director of the Rhode Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, has been instrumental in their education about the environment. “It’s a good family conversation,” said Margie, who is currently Chair of the Planning Board. She also serves on the Old Harbor Task Force, which raises money for pocket gardens and open space along Ocean Avenue, and is a member of the Garden Club. Bill has served on the Block Island Conservancy Board since 2010, and was the President for four years and is now the Vice President. He served on the Zoning Board for seven years.
In nominating them for the Bayberry Wreath Award, island resident Stephen Record wrote to The Block Island Times: “I would like to nominate Bill and Margie Comings. I think their contributions to Block Island conservation speak loudly for themselves. Bill has been instrumental in guaranteeing the vitality and vibrancy of Block Island Conservancy since he joined its board in 2010 and succeeded me to its presidency in 2013. BIC's accreditation in 2014 and renewal this year would not have been possible without his leadership, his constant involvement, and his indefatigable enthusiasm.
“Combine that with his many other roles in service of the island, and Margie's incredible record of service on the Planning Board and elsewhere, and frankly I cannot imagine anyone more deserving of this award.”
“I always thought that the Planning Board was a good fit for me. There’s a lot going on,” said Margie, adding that she felt its role was “to protect Block Island” by adhering to its zoning ordinances.
Margie coming said that the Planning Board has a role in beginning the conversation in how to best prepare for sea level rise — the board commissioned a study of Corn Neck Road — “and the other resources we have now,” she said.
“We have a good community of year-round younger residents with families who, through the school and generations of teachers, have been learning conservation and how to be good stewards,” said Bill.
Bill said that during his time on the Block Island Conservancy he helped open the Education Center on Weldon’s Way, and led the preservation of Nicholas Ball Park located in front of the Harbor Church lawn, where there is now also a water bottle filling station.
“They have been phenomenal in shepherding the island through some major projects,” said Block Island Conservancy President Dorrie Napoleone of the Comings’. “Bill knows the intricacies and has the knowledge of all the options on how best to conserve land. They’ve conserved their own land, and they’re helping others do it.”
When asked how they feel about the future, Bill Comings said, “By any standard, in terms of island land, we’re doing very well.”
“We’re ahead of the game,” said Margie.