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Allen Raymond Jr., "Mr. Westport," dies at 91

Updated 2:39 pm, Thursday, May 1, 2014

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  • Allen Raymond Jr. in a photo from February 2013 holds a photo of himself a photo of himself at age 11 in 1934 from Buffalo, N.Y., following a piano recital. It reads, "In appreciation of your excellent performance in the Julliard Series." Photo: File Photo / Westport News
    Allen Raymond Jr. in a photo from February 2013 holds a photo of himself a photo of himself at age 11 in 1934 from Buffalo, N.Y., following a piano recital. It reads, "In appreciation of your excellent performance in the Julliard Series." Photo: File Photo

 

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Allen Raymond Jr., longtime civic leader, philanthropist, town historian and, essentially, considered "Mr. Westport" by many, died Thursday at home. He was 91.

Over the years, Raymond served the town and community causes in numerous ways. He had been moderator of the Representative Town Meeting, chairman of the Board of Education, Republican Town Committee chairman, president of the Westport Historical Society, the Westport Library, the Westport Weston Family Y and the Compo Cove Park Association, as well as board chairman of Earthplace and the Norwalk Symphony.

"With the passing of Allen Raymond, Westport has lost an exceptional member of our community," First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a statement Thursday. "A vibrant, intelligent, giant of a man, Allen was a close, personal friend of mine, but more importantly, Allen was `Mr. Westport.' His name will always be remembered alongside the great contributors to our town."

Among the recent civic accolades in Raymond's honor was the naming of the entrance road to the new Westport Weston Family Y at Mahackeno -- Allen Raymond Lane. In addition to serving in leadership positions with the Y, Raymond made a $500,000 contribution for construction of its new complex.

"From his early days as a youngster, when he spent his summers in Westport, Allen knew Westport inside and out," Marpe said. "For almost seventy years, his involvement and generous commitment to Westport was unquestioned and steadfast."

Raymond "was truly a pillar of our community. He tutored me in Westport history when I wrote my book on Westport in 2000," said writer Woody Klein, a former editor of the Westport News. "Now, he himself is an important legend in that history."

"He was a true friend and mentor. I valued his friendship enormously," Klein added.

Marpe also credited Raymond as being instrumental in the town's purchase of Longshore Country Club, which has become a municipal recreation center.

And when United Illuminating Co. wanted to build a nuclear plant on Cockenoe Island a mile off the town's shoreline, Raymond helped lead opposition to the plan, Marpe said. In 1967, Life magazine cited Westport's acquisition of Cockenoe as one of the most significant conservation victories in the nation, he added.

He was president of the Westport Library during the planning and construction of its building on Jesup Green in 1986

As town historian for a decade, Raymond reveled in sharing his knowledge -- much of it gained first-hand -- about the town he loved so well. For a number of years, he led tour of the town in a Westport Historical Society program called "Westport for Dummies."

During one of those outings, he told the tour group that in 1960 he had urged then-First Selectman Herbert Baldwin to investigate purchase of the Longshore Country Club and how quickly a town meeting approved it.

"Herb and I walked the property afterwards because we really didn't know what we had bought," Raymond recalled during the 2011 tour. For one thing, he said, town leaders didn't realize the parcel they bought for less than $2 million included a residential community that remains to this day on the waterfront.

Raymond's love affair with Westport began in 1923, the year he was born. That year, his family, which was based in Buffalo, N.Y., began spending summers in a yellow cottage on Old Mill Beach. It was here that his lifelong love of boating began.

"My parents built it in 1923 and that was the year I was born, so I've spent 90 summers at that cottage," Raymond said in an interview last year with the Westport News. "At that time in Compo Cove, we didn't have year-round plumbing."

"I just had such a wonderful time here every summer when I was growing up," he said.

Raymond also had memories of digging for clams in front of his cottage during low tide, and them selling them -- for $1 a bucket -- to the owners of the now-gone Allen's Clam House.

Raymond also recalled that, when asked as a child what his ambition was, he said he wanted to live in Westport.

"And when I got married, that's exactly what I did, and it turned out to be everything I wanted it to be."

But perhaps more magical than his permanent move to the house at 14 Long Lots Road in 1949 was the memorable encounter he had with the former Barbara Butler at the University of Michigan.

"I got this wonderful smile and this nice, `Hello,' " Raymond remembers of the fateful encounter. "We got married right out of college and it was wonderful."

After 61 years of marriage, his wife Barbara, known for her own extensive community activities, died in 2007 from cancer at age 83.

"I really miss my wife," Raymond said last year. "It's very, very hard."

At the time of Raymond's 90th birthday last year, the couple's shared legacy included five children, their respective spouses, and a wealth of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"I think I have about 25 in the family fold, but it's a moving target," he told the Westport News. "There are more great-grandchildren on the way."

"It's a great family," he said. "We have wonderful times together."

Even though he earned an engineering degree in 1945, Raymond got involved in a small publishing firm in New York City. "It worked, and I made money, but I found out I could make more money in a corporation," he said. So from there, he entered advertising sales for magazines, going to work at McCall's, a women's magazine. That, in turn, led Raymond to set up his own publishing business, and from an office in Darien, Raymond's venture made him "the largest publisher of magazines for educators in the country," by his account.

A memorial service is planned May 17 at Greens Farms Congregational Church.