Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Remembering Ray

In addition to being GreeneLand's official historian, Raymond Beecher was the county's foremost benefactor. His death on October 11th, at the age of 91, preceded by two weeks an event at Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, that he had planned to attend, as usual: the annual Raymond Beecher Lecture. As a prelude to that lecture, a member of the Cole Site's board of trustees, David Barnes, drove 13 hours from Columbus, Ohio, to deliver this eulogy.

Through Thomas Cole’s eyes, we were given a vision of our natural heritage and cultural identity. 160 years later, through Raymond Beecher’s eyes, we were given a vision of what Cedar Grove could be today. Simply put, without Ray’s hard work, his determination, his ability to inspire others and--yes, as he loved to say, plenty of his beer money--there would be no Cedar Grove today, to celebrate Thomas Cole and the birthplace of the Hudson River School.

Ray was adamant that Cedar Grove must never become just another “historic home” filled with period furnishings. He wanted Cedar Grove to be a vital, dynamic force in education and in scholarship, those touchstones of Ray’s career. And that’s why, in addition to saving Thomas Cole’s home, one of the many gifts Ray gave Cedar Grove was this lecture series that bears his name. Today is the third annual Raymond Beecher lecture, but the first without him. Ray passed away two weeks ago, peacefully, at his family home overlooking the Hudson River in Coxsackie. Of course, when someone lives to be 91 years old, as Ray did, we’re not supposed to feel cheated. But because of the kind of person Ray was, I think he could’ve lived to be 191 and we’d still feel cheated. I don’t think we feel too differently today than William Cullen Bryant felt when he said, in his funeral oration for Thomas Cole, that "His departure has left a vacuity which amazes and alarms us. It is as if the voyager on the Hudson were to look toward the great range of the Catskills, at the foot of which Cole, with a reverential fondness, had fixed his abode, and were to see that the grandest of its summits had disappeared – had sunk into the plain from our sight."

Ray’s life was full of accomplishments, none greater than his 50-year marriage to Catharine Shaffer Beecher. He earned degrees from Hartwick College and Boston University, including a Doctor of Humane Letters from Hartwick College, his undergraduate alma mater. And he led men into battle in two theaters of operation in WWII, displaying an ability to get people to do things that would become very familiar to those of us he led in the battle to save Thomas Cole’s home.

For over 50 years he was a proud member of the Greene County Historical Society, and his love for this beautiful area was unsurpassed: he learned more about it than anyone, and devoted his life to preserving it and educating people about it as historian, preservationist and author.

His undying passion was Cedar Grove. He knew more about it than anyone else. The last thing he ever wrote, found on his desk after he died, were four shining paragraphs of what would’ve been a superb article he was writing about Cedar Grove for our Winter Newsletter.

To the end, he was the very embodiment of a gentleman and a scholar. With Ray’s passing, we’ve lost a dear friend, an irreplaceable inspiration, and an enormous amount of knowledge. But what inspired him, and the gifts he gave us, are still here, to inspire us, and future generations. It’s a legacy I know he’d be proud of.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,That one small head could carry all he knew."
Oliver Goldsmith's village schoolmaster in The Deserted Village.

That's how I always think of him.
I thought he would live forever.