In Bill Cosby's Adopted Hometown, Neighbors Have Mixed Feelings About Sex Scandal
Inside Cosby's quiet life in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts – and what locals think
After the couple moved to the historic community in 1971, they quickly established themselves as good neighbors who were eager to preserve the town’s bucolic setting. While they maintain their own compound that includes two large farmhouses, the Cosbys purchased several acres of land in and around Shelburne for conservation purposes. Just last March, Camille Cosby wrote a guest editorial in the Shelburne Falls & West County Independent newspaper against the installation of a proposed gas pipeline.
“Ignorance is not bliss,” she wrote. “As my father, who was a chemist, repeatedly stated to me in my childhood, the evidence is the truth.”
Locals say Bill, 77, and Camille, 70, maintain a relatively low profile about town. Though they are known for their elaborate Christmas light displays, the couple aren’t frequently seen in the town’s commercial center. They were spotted at the polls in the last presidential election, one observer recalled, though Camille Cosby had to help her husband with the ballot because his eyesight is poor. Cosby is a fan of Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters – he gave it a large espresso machine several years ago – but he usually sends an assistant to pick up his beloved triple cappuccino, according to an employee. The couple sometimes dine at The Gypsy Apple, a small French bistro, and order takeout from Mag Pie, an upscale pizza place.
“He’s part of the community, but he’s not part of the community,” said Felice Wolfzahn, 53, a dance teacher from Shelburne Falls. “He has land here and a home here, but this is a pretty tight-knit community, and he’s really not involved.” Another resident, Laura Earl, remembers Cosby being more outgoing when his children were young. At his late son Ennis’s basketball practices, “He’d go on the court and play with the kids and joke around,” she says. “You wouldn’t even know he was a superstar.”
Several residents interviewed have differing feelings about the allegations and how the controversy reflects on their famous neighbor. A resident who didn’t want to be identified told PEOPLE that he has the “highest regard” for the Cosbys.
“I am deeply offended by the way the press has invaded the privacy of two wonderful people,” he said, adding, “Mrs. Cosby has handled these attacks on her husband with grace and a manner that reflects the quality person that she is and that he is.”
Dale Moore of nearby Ashfield, meanwhile, finds the accusations “egregious.”
“It doesn’t look good for him,” says Moore, a 65-year-old goldsmith. “I think he’s got to respond to these accusations and the fact that he hasn’t is very telling.”
Cosby’s lawyer Martin Singer has lambasted the media for publicizing “decades-old events” that he calls “completely illogical” but Cosby’s career has taken a heavy hit. The controversy not only resulted in Cosby losing a sitcom project at NBC and a special on Netflix, it recently prompted the University of Massachusetts Amherst to cut ties with Cosby. The comedian received a master’s and a doctorate in education from the college, located about 30 miles from Shelburne Falls, which has received several hundred thousand dollars in donations from the Cosbys.
In addition, several venues have cancelled Cosby’s comedy concerts. His next venue, the Tarrytown Music Hall in New York, will reportedly allow the show to go on, but is offering refunds to those who had tickets to Cosby’s Dec. 6 show.
“If it turns out to be true, it will be such an utter betrayal of their marriage and of their family,” said Ellen Eller, a 66-year-old owner of the Sawyer News shop in Shelburne Falls. “[Cosby and his wife] have a reputation of promoting education and of setting a moral example. A lot of people find him to be preachy and they resent him being holier than thou.”
But other residents like D. Spaulding, a senior cashier at Green Fields Market, prefer to keep the headlines about Cosby in perspective. “Honestly, I don’t think people are following the story that closely,” said Spaulding, who often caters to Cosby via his assistants who come in to buy vitamins and other wellness products on the comedian’s behalf. “They’re more interested in Ferguson and what’s happening there and what’s going to come out of it.”
• With reporting by JULIET PENNINGTON