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Friday, February 23 News

Civic leadership, personal virtues of 'Mr. Westport' hailed at Allen Raymond memorial service

On several occasions following the death of close friends, Allen Raymond Jr. would write "An Open Letter to God," speaking on his friend's behalf in the Westport News.

Now, following his death at age 91 on May 1, the man widely known around town as "Mr. Westport," was fondly recalled Saturday in the same spirit during a service celebrating his life at Greens Farms Congregational Church.

"Allen is coming," said his niece, Mary Zulack, who was among those who filled the church Saturday afternoon. "He is an energetic optimist."

The wide range of Raymond's civic involvement over the years was extolled by several speakers, but Zulack also shared some little-known stories about help and compassion Raymond provided to individuals, such as weekly care for a troubled local man that literally included helping the man bathe and get dressed.

"There are many stories like this," she said. "He did not reveal some of his intense personal contributions to some people."

Still, she and other said, his known legacy was substantial.

"He was a giant in the world of education and publishing, and he was a giant in Westport," she said.

"It was through his `yes' to life that he prevailed," said Len Raymond, his eldest son, who spoke on behalf of Raymond's five children. "He very early on mastered `yes.' Yes in believing in his children. Yes in believing that all people are inherently good, and yes in getting things done."

While Len said Allen Raymond loved adventure, he also chose to spend his final days at home, surrounded by friends and family. "He chose to die at home and was truly pleased to have people visit him."

"In recent times I saw him as the face of joy, as if paradise were at his call," he said. "In this unassuming, gentle way of his, he preached -- preached of surrender as the good life," the son said.

First Selectman Jim Marpe praised Allen Raymond as a mentor, noting a relationship that began 25 years ago when Marpe first joined the church.

"Allen Raymond was one of the first people that I met," he said. "I was immediately struck by his warmth ... and his intellect."

Marpe outlined the long list of Raymond's civic and community activities, including his pivotal role in the town acquiring Longshore Club Park. He said he was saddened that, while Raymond had in the past chaired the Board of Education, the Norwalk Symphony's board, the Republican Town Committee and the Earthplace trustees, among many leadership roles, his passing left three vacancies in local government that he still held at the time of his death, including the Land Acquisition Committee, Sherwood Mill Pond Committee and as town historian.

"I feel blessed to have known such a fine leader," Marpe said. "And thank you to the Raymond family for sharing him with Westport."

"He was just a lovely man," said Ellie Lowenstein, who worked with him in town government and knew him through the church. "very helpful to everybody and very friendly."

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"We rejoiced that we were fortunate to experience life with Allen," said the Rev. Jeffrey Rider, Greens Farms senior minister, whose appointment Raymond helped secure.

Among the most moving words at the service were prepared by Raymond himself, printed in the program for Saturday's celebration.

"To all here today, and all who have always been so kind to me, especially in these last few months ... Please accept my deep gratitude and my hope and prayers for each of you as expressed in the Irish Blessing, `Thank you most sincerely and God bless ... until we meet again.' "

"Celebrate life," he wrote, "and do something nice for someone every day."