Y ears ago, I was sitting at Sachuest Beach, watching the late afternoon surf roll in. I’d spent all day body surfing. The waves had been glassy and glorious, fun to ride, plenty of power.

I noticed a tall woman with wind-blown white hair, probably in her 70s, tuck a boogey board under her arm and head into the surf. I watched as she caught wave after wave. The wave would drive her onto the beach. She’d pop up and run back into the surf. I recognized that joy; I recognized a kindred spirit.

I rushed over. Wow, you’re getting some great rides. Yes, it’s beautiful today, she said.

I’m Cheryl Hatch. I’m June Gibbs. Are you related to Helen and John Hatch? Yes, they were my grandparents. I’m John Hatch’s oldest daughter. June knew my grandparents and my parents. And she knew my mom’s parents, too. My grandfather, William Shepley, served in the RI House of Representatives years before June served as a RI State Senator.

We talked for a bit then parted ways.

We’d see each other on the beach most days. I would spend my entire day every day at Second Beach. June would come and catch waves in the late afternoon. One day she invited me to lunch.

I always accepted June’s invitations, especially the last-minute ones. It’s a beautiful morning, want to walk on the beach? Yes! Want to get a pizza at Gold’s? Yes! Want to grab dinner at KJs? Yes! Want to see a play at Trinity Theater in Providence? Yes! Want to go to the Cape for the weekend? Yes!

June was spontaneous and sparkling. One October we made an impromptu trip to the Cape. It was sunset. June suggested one last dip of the season. We knew the water would be chilly. We put on our suits and jumped into the water. We jumped right back out. It was crazy cold. And we have that great memory of gasping for glee and taking the plunge.

June always took the plunge. As a politician, as a friend, as a member of her church, June always dived in with gusto. She was a force of nature….a kind, wild force of nature. And I loved her.

She followed my adventures. She was particularly interested in my students, my year teaching in Alaska and my project on the soldiers of 1/25th Styrker Brigade Combat Team and their families. I sent her postcards from Afghansitan and I called a few times. He son-in-law, Eliot, would pull up Google Earth and they’d tried to locate Sperwan Ghar on the map and track my travels. Early in her career, June served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and helped cracked German submarine codes during World War II.

On one of my calls, her daughter, Elizabeth, told me June had been diagnosed with cancer. It was aggressive.

Recently, I told June I was planning to stop in RI and see her on my way home from Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Come sooner, Cheryl, she said.

I didn’t make it.

June died at 3 a.m. on Easter day.

Elizabeth said she and Eliot walked along June’s beloved Sachuest Beach and through the Wildlife Refuge June helped create. At Easter sunrise, two great blue herons lifted off and flew past them. Elizabeth figures it was her mom and dad checking in on them.

Eliot said: I think she’s heading straight for Kuwait to throw her weight around and get to the bottom of things.

I like that idea. With June on the job, whatever’s got a hold on me doesn’t stand a chance now.

Surf’s up, June. I love you.

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