In her early 20s, Tracy Tarvers loved to travel. Once she flew to Costa Rica and hitchhiked from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific. With a friend, she traveled throughout Central America; she would go to one country, her friend another, and they would meet up in a third.
“She was pretty fearless,” said her brother, Mike. “Always looking for something else, something more.”
Tracy died in the harbor outside her New Bedford home on Aug. 12, 2021. She was 59.
The daughter of the late Truro Selectman Bruce Tarvers and Nancy (Lee) Tarvers, Tracy was born in Hyannis and grew up in North Truro. She graduated from Cape Cod Technical High School after completing a program in cosmetology.
Her first jobs after high school were in beauty shops in Orleans and Hyannis. After joining her sister in San Francisco, she became a licensed cosmetologist in California, but she pined for the Cape.
Returning to Truro, she worked at the Blacksmith Shop, where her brother cooked. She then opened a small shop, Complexions Plus, behind the storefronts on Main Street in Wellfleet, where she sold handmade soaps, beauty products, and trinkets.
Her life changed profoundly on July 31, 1997, the day she and her boyfriend broke up, Mike said. Upset, she went to see her friend Berry Perkins, the wife of actor Anthony Perkins.
Distracted, she had forgotten to buckle her seatbelt. As she signaled to turn left, she was clipped on the right side by another car, forcing her car into oncoming traffic. She was severely injured, and would struggle to walk again, but never regained full mobility.
Mike described her superior treatment at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston and the efforts of her friends to support her recovery. “She was held down,” Mike observed, “but, boy, she was pushing up the whole time.”
Fundraisers paid for a cottage donated by Ducky Noons to be craned into place by Mike Winkler and renovated by local craftsmen. Those funds also covered annual travel with the assistance of a nurse. For a time, Tracy managed to live on her own. But she needed help.
The state took over her care, and she spent the last 16 years in supported housing in New Bedford. Nonetheless, she remained active.
She worked with the Brain Injury Association of America advocating for handicap accessible facilities in public spaces. She also worked with the state police, giving talks in high schools on the importance of wearing seatbelts. In many cases, “Kids in the audience would be crying,” Mike said.
Her presentations were so effective that the police asked her to talk to repeat DUI offenders. Hard as that must have been, she embraced the challenge.
She was a popular presence in New Bedford, where one sandwich shop named its eggplant parmesan sub after her.
When she visited family in North Truro on weekends, she took the shuttle to Provincetown and “strolled” up and down Commercial Street in her electric wheelchair, stopping, at her two favorite spots, Mojos and Spiritus Pizza. Mike said with a chuckle that often she would return with more money in her wallet than she had when she left.
Her brother also recalled how “the little cocky smile on her face” as a child remained even after her accident. “Despite her disability,” he said, “she refused to be daunted.”
On Aug. 12, Tracy rode her wheelchair to New Bedford Harbor, and pushing herself free from her constraints, she went into the water.
Tracy’s siblings issued the following statement:
“We are all dealt a hand from the cards of life and it’s up to you how they play out. Our sister Tracy got dealt a pretty tough hand almost 25 years ago, but she rolled on with such strength, courage, and dignity that we cannot explain it. She loved and was loved by so many people. She is free from the constraints of this Earth and her disability and is whole again. We love you, Tracy!”
Tracy is survived by her mother, Nancy Tarvers of North Truro; by siblings Karen Smith of Northborough, Pamela Nichols of Shirley, Michael Tarvers of North Truro, and Christina Tarvers of Provincetown; and by numerous nieces, nephews, and great-nieces.
Burial will be private.