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At 90, Allen Raymond embodies Westport history and community commitment

Updated 5:28 am, Friday, February 8, 2013

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  • Allen Raymond Jr., who at 90 is Westport's town historian and still active in many civic endeavors, shows 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: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    Allen Raymond Jr., who at 90 is Westport's town historian and still active in many civic endeavors, shows 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: Jarret Liotta

 

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In the early 1940s, when Allen Raymond Jr. was attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, along with engineering classes and dating, his busy days were filled with running both an editorial service and a popular campus restaurant, where he was half-owner.

At one point he was so busy that he stayed up for four straight days, , Raymond said in a recent interview. "I couldn't go to classes because if I sat down, I'd fall asleep," he said.

Raymond recalled that each time he wrote home to his mother, "She would sit down and compose herself before she read the letter, (because) God knows what I was going to be doing next."

On Jan. 16, Raymond celebrated his 90th birthday, and as anyone who knows him will attest, he's done -- and continues to do -- more with his time than any other five people, regardless of their age.

To Westport's advantage, this tireless community volunteer has invested the greatest amounts of his energy to benefit the town he's loved all his long life.

"In short, Allen Raymond is Mr. Westport, and richly deserves the title," said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.

Having Raymond serve as the town historian, Joseloff said, is "highly appropriate for a man who has not only lived through much of the formative years of the town, but has been an active participant."

Raymond not only moderated the Representative Town Meeting, but has, at different times, chaired the Board of Education, Republican Town Committee, Earthplace and the Norwalk Symphony, not to mention serving as president of the Westport Historical Society, Westport Public Library, the Westport Weston Family Y, and the Compo Cove Park Association, among other town and civic activities.

"I can't say enough nice things about Allen Raymond," said Susan Gold, executive director of the Westport Historical Society. "If anybody had a vision for the historical society, it was Allen Raymond. He felt passionate about what we are able to offer the community."

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 their 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. "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 recalls 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. "It's very, very hard."

The couple's shared legacy includes 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 said. "There are more great-grandchildren on the way."

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

Along with helping to raise a large family and a full slate of civic involvement, Raymond also had a productive career in business.

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. This, 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," he said.

And as if he hadn't done enough for the town, last year Raymond pledged $500,000 to the Westport Weston Family Y's construction campaign for a new home at its Mahackeno property.

"He continues to this day to still be one of our strongest advocates and our most generous donor," said Rob Reeves, the Y's executive director.

"As long as he is able, we will make sure he is the first one in the new pool," he said.

"I was involved because I wanted to be involved," Raymond said. "I loved it. Some people just don't, and I do. If the opportunity is there, I do it."

"You look back on your life this far back and ... you don't harbor that feeling of disappointment," he said. "I'm not disappointed. That's a nice way to feel when you're 90 years old. I just thought about that."

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.