A Mahon for All Seasons
Creating a Life of One's Choosing
Gene Mahon is a washashore. Landing here in 1970 as the result of island acquaintances struck up during an anti-Vietnam war protest, Gene looked around and realized that this was a place where he could lead life on his terms.
For a self-described hippy, making a life on Nantucket was not an easy thing in the 70’s. The community was intensely polarized: island residents and long-time visitors alike feared and loathed the unkempt, barefoot tribe of 20-somethings who haunted Main Street. The hippies, as is often the case with “outsiders” were not nearly as feckless and irresponsible as their appearance would suggest. If Gene Mahon is an example, they were capable of becoming useful, productive and stalwart members of the community, even while retaining their communitarian outlook.
Gene’s first job, painting houses, kept him afloat all summer, while another opportunity opened up at the same time. Janet Russo, who then owned a shop on Centre Street, offered him space to open a photography gallery, where he exhibited others’ work alongside his own.
And literally a few weeks after that, Gene took over management of The Camera shop—owner Charlie Folger having thrown keys at him saying “here—it’s yours—you run it” one unforgettable day. Some money changed hands and Gene, with his long ponytail and bare feet, was suddenly a member of the business community.
The Camera Shop became Gene’s launching pad for a variety of other ventures dear to his heart, benefitting Nantucketers of all stripes. There was an outdoor flea market, first at Tom Nevers and then at the mini-golf place on Nobadeer Farm Road. Other ventures followed. But the one most fondly remembered was The Roadhouse, from 1978 – 1980 located where the Faregrounds now is. The Roadhouse jazz house band invited Boston and New York musicians to visit and play with them. The Roadhouse’s setup, with one room devoted to music and the other to a friendly chattering bar, was conducive to serious jazz, and some of the off-island players there went on to great careers. Local players included the writer Frank Conroy on the piano, and Greg Meredith on bass.
Gene describes himself as someone who has followed serendipitous paths that opened before him, rather like the ferry making its way across a frozen Nantucket Sound by following newly opened cracks in the ice. And after The Roadhouse, those paths included opening the Nantucket Copy Center, Nantucket Sound record store, Nantucket Video, Nantucket Print & Poster, and many concert productions. And then, stimulated by the comment of a stranger (“Isn’t twenty-five years enough?”), Gene decided to sell The Camera Shop and take yet another opening path: television. Nantucket Television (NTV) began in 1999 as another way to provide Nantucketers with relevant and current information and entertainment. Eventually NTV was sold to Tom Scott, who transitioned it into Plum TV.
And then came the internet, and e-mail, and Gene re-invented himself again: this time as Mahon About Town, a peripatetic observer of the island’s social scene. Started in 2005, Gene’s email newsletter now reaches 6,600 people weekly: resident and non-resident alike, who are interested in reading about what’s happening and seeing pictures of the people doing it.
But doing work that helps the community has always been a theme in Gene’s life. Now it’s taking yet another turn: as the president of Nantucket Community Television (NCTV), he and the NCTV board have started a public access TV station, launching on May 21, 2012. In this venture, education is foremost: a major part of its effort will be to train Nantucket students to become TV producers. Equipment is state-of-the-art, membership is very inexpensive, and mentoring will be part of the picture.
Mahon about Town is really our Mahon of All Seasons. And we are all lucky for it.