A Life: Raymond A. Buskey, 1953-2017; ‘He Put His Time Where His Mouth Is’

  • Ray Buskey, center, helping out on his son Jake's Eagle Scouts project to make the Norther Rail Trail in Lebanon more accessible to the disabled. (Family photograph)

  • Ray and Lonnie Buskey with their two children, Jake and Emily, in the late 1990s at Burton Island during a camping and sailing trip around Lake Champlain. (Family photograph) Family photograph

  • Ray Buskey in his senior portrait from the 1971 Hanover High School yearbook.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2017 12:13:26 AM
Modified: 7/10/2017 12:13:27 AM

Lebanon — In 1989, Karl Bergeron suffered a spinal cord injury in a construction accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He was 42.

Ray Buskey helped convince Bergeron that he still had a lot to live for. Growing up in Hanover, the two were childhood friends. They had spent a fair amount of their summers kayaking and canoeing on the Connecticut River.

“The next spring (following the accident), Ray came down to my place in Concord and packed me into his car,” Bergeron said. “We drove back to Hanover, and I bought a kayak. Then we went over and put it in Mascoma Lake. Ray picked me up, threw me in the kayak, and off I went.

“I didn’t know what I could do as a paraplegic, and neither did he. We learned together.”

Bergeron spent the weekend at Buskey’s house on Mascoma Lake. “My legs didn’t function, but I could still swim and paddle a kayak,” Bergeron said. “In Ray’s mind, it was a way for me to recognize that I was going to be OK.”

In the last couple of years, the two friends hadn’t seen much of each other. “That’s one of my biggest regrets,” said Bergeron, who now lives in Northwood, N.H. “You always think you’re going to have more time.”

On June 11, after attending a Sunday evening event for the Mascoma Lake Association, of which he served on the governing board, Buskey was driving home when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

He was 63.

Shortly after his death, family, friends and acquaintances turned out en masse for an outdoor memorial service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley in Norwich. Under the threat of a rain on a sweltering Saturday morning, mourners filled every seat in a large tent and then some.

“It says something about the person we’re honoring that we have to keep bringing out chairs,” remarked the Rev. Patience Stoddard to the crowd of more than 250 people.

“Ray’s death was so sudden and unexpected,” Stoddard added. “None of us got an opportunity to say goodbye.”

Buskey’s death has left a major void in the Upper Valley’s nonprofit world. He’d spent 28 years on Advance Transit’s governing board.

“He wasn’t one of those people who join a board to see their name on the letterhead and attend a meeting now and then,” said Jim Tonkovich, a longtime Advance Transit board member who succeeded Buskey as president. “He put 100 percent into it. He was my mentor on the board.”

Whether the board was discussing bus transmissions or websites, “he always had something productive to add to our discussions,” Tonkovich said.

At Advance Transit’s outset in the early 1980s, skeptics questioned whether a bus service was viable or even necessary in the Upper Valley.

But as a businessman, Buskey, the owner of several downtown Hanover properties with his brother Steve, envisioned Advance Transit as a way to reduce traffic and ease the town’s parking crunch.

He also saw the benefits for employees of the town’s downtown restaurants and shops — they could save on gas and parking. (Not to mention parking tickets.)

“He was one of the people who understood the value of Advance Transit early on,” said its executive director, Van Chesnut. “He was a bit of a visionary.”

Buskey helped Advance Transit grow into an organization that now has 34 buses in its fleet. He ushered Advance Transit’s move from Lebanon to a new building in Wilder. Later on, he led the way on an environmentally-friendly building expansion project.

“He always had his sleeves rolled up,” said Chesnut, who took Advance Transit’s helm shortly before the Lebanon City Council appointed Buskey to the governing board. “He put his time where his mouth is.”

The Mascoma Lake Association was another favorite cause. In her eulogy, Stoddard described Buskey as the “milfoil warrior.”

During rainstorms, he’d hike through adjacent woods to collect water samples from streams that emptied into the lake. He considered it doing his part in helping figure out what contaminants were leaking into the lake.

Buskey was also active in the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail. The dirt path runs in front of the family home on Mascoma Lake’s east end that Buskey and his wife, Lonnie, bought, after they married in 1986. (The couple separated in 2012.)

When the rail trail was proposed more than 20 years ago, not everyone on Ice House Road was enthused about runners, bicyclists and, in the winter, snowmobile users, cutting through the neighborhood, Lonnie said.

Recognizing that the rail trail was going to happen with or without the support of residents, Buskey embraced it. But he was adamant that the rule of no motorized vehicles — other than snowmobiles — be upheld. “He was worried about erosion on the trail,” Lonnie said. “He was the Rail Trail Sheriff.”

In 2008, Buskey pitched in when his son, Jake, set about improving handicap accessibility to the Rail Trail for his Eagle Scout project.

“When we were in school, we never hesitated to volunteer him to be a chaperone,” said his daughter, Emily. On school trips to the Museum of Science in Boston, “he enjoyed it more than half the kids,” she said.

For field trips, he took extra care in packing their lunches. Emily would find her favorite — a ham and cheese wrap — held together with a thin carrot stick that her father had meticulously carved. He didn’t want to use a plastic tooth pick that would land in the trash. “He didn’t want any waste,” Emily said.

At the time of his death, Buskey was the Mascoma Lake Association’s vice president. After accepting the volunteer post, he confessed that he’d taken it as an excuse to get closer to the association’s president, Allison Flint. After knowing each other for years, they went on their first date last Labor Day weekend.

Flint admired Buskey for being a staunch environmentalist, but “he wasn’t obnoxious about it,” she said. “He just had a strong connection to the environment, and couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t treat it with respect.”

There was one instance, however, when Buskey’s love of nature was put to the test.

A while back, a beaver took up residence near Buskey’s lakefront house. The creature immediately took a liking to one of the prized apple trees that Buskey had planted and nurtured close to his property’s shoreline.

As beavers are apt to do, this one proceeded to make sawdust out of the apple tree’s trunk. On numerous occasions when the beaver arrived unannounced, Buskey set his dogs loose. The beaver still won out.

“My dad never let go of that grudge,” Jake said with a smile. “What upset him the most was the beaver didn’t use the tree. He just left it there.”

In time, however, there’s a good chance the two would have come to an understanding. Because whatever social cause or environmental activity that Buskey embraced, he always maintained the ability not to “take himself, or others, too seriously,” Stoddard said. “He seemed to do well with just about everyone.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com or 603-727-3212.

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