Monday, March 25, 2013

A Ray of Light and Grace

This is a sad day for a long-time ally and acquaintance and her family. Her dad, Ray, passed away early yesterday morning, perhaps not entirely unexpectedly but I think more rapidly than anyone else in his family thought would happen.

I met him for the first time about four years ago in the lower level of a pizza restaurant that disappeared some time afterwards and then repeatedly at numerous neighborhood and community functions all across the town where we live, Norwich, Connecticut, in the years since.

He lived in Norwich a very long time with his wife whom he loved very much and their daughter whom, he (correctly) regarded as a force of nature, because she is. I first spoke with him when he stopped in to show support for an insurgent mayoral bid by a candidate whose ideas many people agreed with but whose 'not-from-here' pedigree and unsettling habit of speaking truth to power practically guaranteed no one would elect him. I always enjoyed his stories of what Norwich once was and his keen insights into what it would take to reinvent the city he had chosen to spend his life in.

I sat alongside of him at a presentation one Saturday morning in the conference room of our municipally owned public utility and throughout the entire presentation by the utilities' leadership he kept scribbling notes and questions to himself, barely pausing throughout the entire program.

When it ended, he folded the foolscap up neatly and placed it in his pocket. I asked him what he was intending to do with it and he told me, he'd throw it away when he got home. When I argued that by so doing he had wasted his time, he tilted his head slightly to his right and with a slight smile asked me if I'd read over his shoulder. After I admitted that I had, he assured me, "then it wasn't a waste of my time."

For me he was a bridge between then and what could be. I don't think I ever heard him not applaud an idea he'd hear at any of the meetings he attended-even ideas with which he did not agree. He was insistent that getting people engaged meant encouraging them to think and to speak out whatever their idea might ultimately look like. He sincerely believed you did indeed have to be present for the drawing to win.

He knew all the local movers and shakers, not in a braggy 'these peeps be my posse' kind of swagger way, though typing that and imagining him saying it makes me smile, but, rather, he was a one-man network. If anyone needed assistance on a project or an idea that was just too big for your own two hands, he was the man who knew someone who could help. And because he would ask, help was always forthcoming.

As I said, I didn't know him long, but I made up for it by also not knowing him well. I do know he loved his family and they loved him and that the next few days for them will be a little like dying themselves and that the hole in their hearts will never heal-but their memories of his smile and his willingness to help will always shine brightly even on the darkest of days.
-bill kenny

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