For too long, the residents of Mayo have known little or nothing of the man for whom their community is named, says Herbert Butler, a 73-year-old member of the Kiwanis Club of Commodore Mayo. And he has set out to change that.
Mr. Butler and Beverly Distinti, a playwright who lives in the South County community, have put together "Remembering Isaac Mayo," a show that recounts the life of the career Navy officer who was drummed out of the service when he refused to fight for the Union in the Civil War.
They took their story to the South County Senior Center yesterday for an audience of 50 or so.
Commodore Mayo, who served in the Navy for 50 years, resigned in 1861 rather than fight against Virginia where he was born. In the show, Mr. Butler and two other seniors take the roles of former shipmates of the commodore to tell his son, William Mayo, of his father's exploits.
William, played by Kevin Lloyd, 25, is angered that President Abraham Lincoln issued his father a dishonorable discharge, despite the commodore's service, by stamping "Discharged With Prejudice" on the resignation letter.
Mr. Butler said he hopes that the play will inspire the seniors to join his cause -- to get Commodore Mayo's discharge changed to honorable.
"Isaac Mayo was a real sea hero," he argued. "He served the Navy since he was 14, got the Silver Medal for heroism and brought the Naval Academy to Annapolis and all he got was the shaft. It's high time he was cleared and reinstated as the hero he was to all of us in Mayo.
Already, Mr. Butler is working with Eben Finney, a descendant of Isaac Mayo. And he has enlisted the aid of Wallace Hedworth, a 67-year-old fellow cast member.
"I'm a nut for history," he said. "I knew a little about the commodore, but once I learned more about him, about how his family gave a lot of land to our church and all the great things he had done, I knew it was only right to help."
Several seniors who saw the show yesterday said it was entertaining as well as educational.
Margaret Wolfe, 61, who has lived in Mayo for 35 years, said she never knew who Isaac Mayo was until she saw the show.
"I thought they were terrific up there. I was truly amazed," she said. "But I was even more amazed that I didn't even know of Mayo and his greatness."
Jane Sipes, 65, also from Mayo, said she was saddened to learn of the commodore's dismissal, "just because he refused to choose sides," she said.
"Everyone was divided then about the Civil War, the north and the south, especially around this area," said Mrs. Sipes. "After all he's done for the country, he should be dishonorable discharged? That's not right."
But the campaign to restore the commodore's good name will remain stalled until President Clinton names a new assistant secretary of the Navy who handles such business, Mr. Butler said.