June 17, 2004 - Many in the V.I. community were shocked and saddened to learn Thursday afternoon of the death of Michael Albert Paiewonsky publisher, historian, art patron, politician, author and native son.
Paiewonsky, 64, was found stricken Wednesday evening in his San Juan home, according to friends, and died while being taken by ambulance to a hospital. A medical examiner said on Thursday that an autopsy would be performed on Friday to determine the cause of death.
The son of historian and businessman Isidor Paiewonsky and his wife, Charlotte, Michael Paiewonsky inherited his father's passion for preserving the history of the Virgin Islands through the medium of print. His political bent was reflective of Ralph Paiewonsky, his uncle, who as governor of the Virgin Islands in the 1960s created the infrastructure for its tourism industry and attracted Hess Oil to St. Croix.
Michael Paiewonsky started the MAPes MONDe Editore publishing house, with offices on St. Thomas and in Rome, where he was then living, to produce and market museum-quality reproductions of historic maps, books and artwork as well as to reprint historic documents and publish new works on V.I. history, including books written by himself and his father. He initially sold the items through his family's A.H. Riise Store on Main Street and later opened separate MAPes MONDe Ltd. shops on St. Thomas and St. John.
For more information about his newest outlet, opened in the renovated Grand Hotel complex in 2001, see "History Alive and Well at Grand Galleria".)
In recent years, Paiewonsky also launched an online business, MAPes MONDE.com, which he described on its main page as "a store following family tradition since the 1870s when my family immigrated to St. Thomas, then the Danish West Indies. It is virtually situated in the Virgin Islands."
Paiewonsky had recently married Elaine del Pilar and moved to San Juan live.
His daughter by a previous marriage, Mahine Andrea Riise Paiewonsky, was married to Alexander Steward at the American Church in Oslo, Norway, last Aug. 15. Paiewonsky and his previous wife, Annemor, attended the ceremony.
Paiewonsky served in the 13th and 14th Legislatures, holding office from 1979 to 1983. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the 24th Legislature in 2000 and was defeated in a run for he congressional delegate's seat in the early '90s. However, his interest in politics and his community never abated.
He was outspoken in his views on the community's ills and how to solve them. A prolific writer of opinion pieces for the Source, he commented on everything from roads to the judicial system. A bit of his spirit is reflected in this excerpt from an Op-ed essay written in 2000: "The fabric of our community is rent as local carnival culture sweeps aside bread-and-butter issues we face. It is not even true that half the Senate body 'is not a pack of asses'."
Elmo Roebuck, president of the 13th Legislature, like many in the community, was stunned by the news of Paiewonsky's death. "It caught me completely off guard," he said Thursday afternoon. "I'm deeply saddened by the loss. He grew up here, and he has recorded a lot of our history. It's a big loss for the Virgin Islands."
Roebuck said Paiewonsky had come to visit him just two weeks ago. "He brought two maps for my wife and me as a belated wedding present. The maps are from the early 1700s. He said he had gone to live in Puerto Rico."
In the Legislature, Roebuck said, Paiewonsky "always had very innovative ideas; he was one of the new thinkers and very engaged in the Democratic Party. Some of his ideas didn't get much support, because he was running a littler faster than other members of the Legislature. He was really ingenious."
As a politician, "he was the type you wanted to work with," Roebuck added. "He didn't have all this petty nonsense. He was really a scholar. He did proper research."
Roebuck recalled his family's strong ties to the Paiewonskys. "He was a young man I admired very much. His father and his Uncle Ralph were very close to my family and my father. I really express my condolences to his mother and father. I know they are ailing now, and this must be an added burden for them."
Senate President David Jones in a release Thursday afternoon said Paiewonsky's "business acumen coupled with a strong desire to do his part in making the Virgin Islands politically self-sufficient made him a formidable senator."
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards in his capacity as acting governor said in a release that Paiewonsky "left a unique and appreciable legacy in Virgin Islands history" and that his "continued interest in good government and his thoughtful and insightful suggestions remained a constant to many of his former colleagues."
(On Friday, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, in a release from Washington, D.C., stated that Paiewonsky as a member of the Board of Education for more than a decade "introduced many ideas to empower the board to effectively assist in the betterment of the education system." Also, the governor stated, Paiewonsky "always said that Virgin Islanders had the talent and the ability to run their own affairs.")
Sen. Roosevelt David, also in a release, called Paiewonsky "a man of great historical knowledge, artistic intellect and community activism" who "made significant contributions to this community." He "made an impact throughout the globe with his printing business and throughout this territory with his art collection."
David said that Paiewonsky "would donate prints to schools at the request of any teacher. He decorated territorial school walls with the works of Camille Pissarro, Fritz Melbe [a traveling companion of the young Pissarro] and other aspiring artists that started their painting careers here."
Paiewonsky is the author of "Conquest of Eden:1493-1515: other voyages of Columbus, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Virgin Islands," published in 1999 by MAPes MONDe. He more recently published the compiled correspondence of the U.S. and Danish governments leading up to the transfer of sovereignty of the Danish West Indies to the United States in 1917.