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Ray Kalinowski, pictured at a Memorial Day parade, was an iconic figure in the community.

Ray Kalinowski sought to bring people together


It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing last weekend of Ray Kalinowski of Durham. He had recently returned home from California to spend his remaining time where he was born, where his three children largely grew up and where he contributed so much in the way of public service.

Ray was an iconic figure in Durham and Middlefield. Growing up in the Rockfall section of Middlefield, he left for an eventual decades-long career in the Secret Service which led to an assignment to accompany then-President Richard Nixon on a ground-breaking visit to China. This made him something of a local celebrity, a distinction which came totally from outside, as one of the hallmarks of Ray’s character was a sincere humility.

My contact with Ray, however, began afterwards – after he had retired from the Secret Service and returned fulltime to Durham, where in November 1997 he was elected to the first of his two terms as first selectman. At the time, I was editor of Town Times, and as is usual, I spent much time in the company of the first selectman, whether reporting on meetings or asking him questions. What always stood out about Ray was his openness in answering those questions. Unlike many public officials, he seemed to feel that letting people know what was going on with their government was an important part of his job, and answering my questions was one way to do that.

He also ran a remarkably open and non-partisan selectmen’s meeting. Some officials assume that if you’re not of their party, then you have nothing to add to the conversation. Whatever Ray personally thought about any particular point of view, he honored over and over again a person’s right to express their views, even when they were sometimes quite ludicrous or beside the point. During his tenure as first selectmen, all three selectmen worked together to govern the town – those from the majority party (Republicans) and the minority selectman (a Democrat). He was proud of the fact that in his four years at the helm, only one vote was not unanimous.

Ray was also thoughtful. An article he wrote for the Dec. 4, 1998 Town Times goes into great statistical detail on the need for more state aide for struggling towns. He did not label this a “Republican” idea or a “Democratic” idea, but a necessary idea for reasons which he spelled out in considerable detail. Consider also that Ray, with his wife Sandi, rented the Madison Theater and showed Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” to all who wanted to come. This was a startling act of non-partisanship given that Al Gore was the Democratic vice president of the United States for eight years and a failed presidential candidate. It was a stark public illustration of Ray’s essential integrity, an integrity that is too often missing in public officials who are more likely to toe the party line than to seek the truth.

My friend and Town Times partner Phyllis Sheridan remembers Ray taking time to allow her husband Austin to legally reproduce the seal of the U.S. as a gift for a colleague. Ray knew the layers a person needs to go through to get permission to do such a thing, and he helped Austin navigate them. “Even though he saw the big picture for future planning,” explained Phyllis, “he also noticed and acted on small opportunities to help people.”

Following his stint as first selectman, Ray ran for and won the right to represent the 100th District in the Connecticut State Legislature’s House of Representatives. Ray continued to submit informative columns to Town Times, as well as reprising, several times, a column he first wrote around Coginchaug High School graduation time in 1998. He closed that column with a bit of advice that was on daily display in his own life: “I urge the graduates to be thankful for all the support you have received from your church groups, schools, friends and family. Make good use of your God-given talents and take the values of honesty, self-reliance and patriotism with you to that big world out there and pass them along to your children and successors. The ultimate test is not whether you finally reach your goals, but how you conduct yourself along the way.”

It has been a pleasure and an honor to share a small part of that journey with Ray Kalinowski.



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