Colin: Barbara Riley was a gentle, funny and very special friend

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In 1995 I was elected to join the board of an adolescent organization that was planning an indoor skating rink for the Manchester community. I also served on the development committee of the organization and coincidentally, I was also on the board of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, which at that point was negotiating with the rink board to arrange to perform concerts in the summer months at the proposed rink arena.

Knowing that Barbara Riley was a great music fan, I introduced her to the concept that we were proposing and got her interested in the project. Indeed, interested she was, enough to become what turned out to the most generous contributor to the fund being raised to build the facility. When it came time to give the structure a name, the board unanimously agreed to name it after Barbara. We also elected her to the board on which she served for many years.

Also in the late 1990s, I was on the board of Smokey House Center in Danby, the organization that served the greater Rutland and Northshire communities to provide opportunities for the children of lower income families to work during about nine months of the year at the 500-plus-acre farm at which it planted not only a broad spectrum of vegetables and fruits, but also raised pigs, goats, sheep and horses.

During the schools months, the kids would come to Smokey House after school hours. In the summer, they would be in Danby all day. The program was organized so that teams of five or six youngsters averaging the age of about 12 years and led by a counselor, would learn all aspects of farming, but also would spend classroom time in being introduced to the basic management functions, etc.

It was a program in which I thought Barbara would be interested and, indeed, she was not only intrigued with it, but she made another extremely magnanimous contribution to the organization for a number of years and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the occasional visits she made to the Danby property.

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Some of your readers may recall that back in 2002, the townspeople of our community decided to experiment with a group of film industry representatives in presenting what we hoped might become an annual event. It was the Manchester Film Festival. Barbara was somewhat cautious about the prospect, but with her usual energetic approach to concepts of that kind, dove right in and, in fact, undertook to be the chair of the program with me serving by her side as vice chair.

It must be noted that without her fantastic support, the experiment would never have taken place at all and it was, by the way, a terrifically successful event from an entertainment point of view, but it turned out to be a financial disaster because a couple of the professional film "experts" who originally proposed the concept turned out to be poor financial managers.

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It lasted only one year, but those who attended the large variety of film presentations, including a couple of "world premieres," had a hell of a good time.

Another side of Barbara's life was one to which I was immediately attracted when I first got to know her and one in which we shared a deep, satisfying and loving interest: animals. We spent hours discussing them on numerous occasions when we enjoyed shared meals or just chatting.

At one point, if my memory serves me correctly, she had nine dogs in her wonderful home, canines of all sizes and personalities. She was the most animal-caring person I have ever known.

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Her fabulous outdoor parties were what she might have been most famous for to a large number of people in our community, but to me, her cherishing of and devotion to all animals and her all-encompassing generosity to the institutions within the communities in which she lived were the outstanding and often the unique qualities for which I shall always remember her.

On the outside she may have presented herself to others who didn't know her well enough as a rough and tough broad, but to those of us who were fortunate enough to know and see her as the kind, thoughtful and loving woman that she really was. Although she might, at times, have been reluctant to reveal generally, she was a gentle, funny and very special friend.

I feel privileged to have known her and will miss her greatly.

Ralph Colin is a resident of Dorset.


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