‘An unparalleled legacy of service and caring’
Ray Massucco

‘An unparalleled legacy of service and caring’

Due to his unique position as a lawyer and his involvement in so much of local government, Ray Massucco's knowledge of the goings-on in the village was encyclopedic and fascinating

BELLOWS FALLS — The unexpected death on Sept. 27 of Attorney Ray Massucco has left a huge hole in the heart of the community, and created quite a stir in social media as Ray is remembered by friends, colleagues and clients. Many, many of us have been all three.

The Massucco family has had a strong influence on the Rockingham region for generations, going back to the 1700s. His ancestors ran local shops and stores. His father, Dr. Lawrence Massucco, was the town’s dentist for decades. Ray’s sisters Mary Lou and Sarah spent their lives as teachers in the community. His wife of 53 years, Ginny, was also a lifelong teacher.

I remember swimming at the town pool with Ray’s younger brother, Johnny, in the 1950s. Johnny was a real character and much loved in the community. How Johnny and his family dealt with Down syndrome was an example to the village of compassion and courage. Johnny passed away in 2005.

Ray enjoyed doing his “TellMeSomethingTuesdays” question on Facebook every week. He posted last Tuesday’s — “What’s your favorite aisle in the grocery store?” — shortly before he passed.

He enjoyed discussing politics online as well, and would regularly share on his Facebook page Andy Borowitz’s satirical and usually hilarious “The Borowitz Report” from The New Yorker.

Ray and I often messaged each other privately, shocked at how many of who he referred to as his “intelligent, politically astute friends” would swallow Borowitz’s outrageous satire at face value. He often reminded folks in his posts that Borowitz’s column was tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken literally!

* * *

Following are three of my favorite memories of Ray Massucco.

In 2011, I did a lengthy interview with Ray for Vermont Business Magazine. He was known for his gift of gab, as demonstrated by this interview. I’d ask a question, and Ray would take it and run for 20 minutes.

I had never asked fewer questions. Three or four questions in, Ray somehow easily managed to cover more than 200 years of his family and community history in the process.

Around that same time, I got a call from Ray on a snowy Sunday afternoon. He said the Arlo Guthrie family and several other performers were putting on a concert in northern Massachusetts that evening to benefit Haiti, which had just experienced a serious natural disaster.

Ray was looking for someone willing to go with him in a snowstorm and thought of me. He said if I’d drive, he’d provide the concert seats.

Who could pass that up?

When we got to the opera house, almost immediately Johnny Irion, a singer/songwriter married to Arlo’s daughter Sarah Lee, spotted Ray. A minute later, we were backstage, hanging with four generations of Guthries and a bunch of other well-known folk performers. It was quite an experience.

But as remarkable as that was, it was actually the drive to and from the concert that I remember best.

Due to the snowstorm, travel was slow and traffic was light. We settled in to the warm cab of my pickup and talked for hours about music, law, and the history of Bellows Falls.

We discussed a couple of Ray’s very-high-profile cases (he had a few), and he filled me in on some of the darker sides of Bellows Falls history, including a high-stakes poker game that ended up with a still-unsolved murder in the halls of the Windham Hotel.

Due to his unique position as a lawyer and his involvement in so much of local government, Ray’s knowledge of the goings-on in the village was encyclopedic and fascinating.

And finally, some may remember that Ray drove an old Volvo for many, many years.

In the car’s last few years, I would happen to be behind Ray or driving past him when the Volvo broke down, and I would be the first to stop and help him.

This happened three times.

We looked at each other incredulously when it happened for the third time, and we just broke out laughing.

* * *

I’ve been in touch with a number of Ray’s friends to get their responses to his passing.

After taking over the Roots on the River music festival from its founder, artist and music promoter Charlie Hunter, Ray actually put on a few more of the festivals than Charlie had. The festival ended in 2019.

“What I admired most about Ray was his willingness to contribute,” Hunter wrote me, from a parking lot in Tennessee.

“Free legal work to set up a cause he believed in?” he wrote. “Check. Be town moderator? Check. Donate umpteen gallons of blood? Check. Bring the [Vermont Symphony Orchestra] to town? Check. Take over operations of a festival I was sick of running? Check.”

“And he so seldom got cranky while doing all that,” Hunter said. “An amazing guy.”

In fact, Ray donated a remarkable 183 pints of blood in his lifetime. And, in addition to his work with the Roots Festival, his Vermont Festivals organization, created in 2006, brought Jamie Watts and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to the Bellows Falls Opera House, and many other shows, including performances by Maria Muldaur, Judy Collins, Mavis Staples, and others.

“Ray was a leader in his communities of Bellows Falls, lawyers, and music,” fellow attorney and Ray’s friend Jean Kiewel of Brattleboro told me.

“He was generous and selfless in providing advice, support, friendship and laughs to members of the bar in Vermont and beyond,” she said.

“As the recording secretary of the Windham County Bar Association for many years, he provided dramatic and comic readings of the minutes that were the highlight of every annual meeting,” Kiewel recalls.

“A majority of his clients considered him a personal friend,” she told me. “He leaves us an unparalleled legacy of service and caring.”

Another attorney, Lila Forro, who regularly attended the Roots Festival for many years, also wrote me.

“First year we came to [Roots on the River] from North Carolina — 2002 or 2003 — had corresponded by mail with Charlie Hunter about the event,” Forro wrote. “In these days before social media inundated us with details, we didn’t know what or who to expect. We found the big tent for the Thursday night show, with Charlie Hunter and Ray getting things ready to kick off.”

“Ray, whom I’d never met and knew nothing about, immediately reached out to hug me and planted a big kiss on my cheek,” she said.

In that moment, she said, “my life suddenly included an entire village of friends I never knew were waiting for me.”

She and Ray enjoyed sharing great stories about music and their law practices, Lila told me. “I’ll always remember Ray grinning and clapping offstage, crying with the rest of us at the meeting house shows, and having the time of his life in the midst of his community,” she said.

* * *

Ray’s love of music was with him to the very end. He spent the weekend before he died at the FreshGrass Festival at Mass MoCA in North Adams. His social media account was filled with his videos of acts like Jerry Douglas, Del McCoury, and Old Crow Medicine Show. And as usual, he was enthusiastic in recommending some new performers he found at the event.

One of Ray’s favorite Roots performers was Grammy-nominated Mary Gauthier, who he booked so often that she herself has lost count of the number of years she came to Vermont.

During the 20-year course of the Roots festival, Gauthier has established herself as one of the major songwriting and performing forces in today’s Americana music scene.

“I am saddened to hear of the death of my friend Ray Massucco,” she wrote me from her home in Nashville, calling him “a tireless supporter of songwriters and musicians, the arts in general, and the town of Bellows Falls, Vermont.”

“He made me feel like I owned the Sunday morning Rockingham Meeting House slot,” Gauthier wrote. “He always went up into the pulpit to personally introduce me, and had wonderful things to say. He was the master of ceremonies, and a beloved figure.”

In 2018, Gauthier released a highly acclaimed album that came out of her songwriting workshops with veterans. More recently, she released her autobiography, Saved by a Song.

Ray’s response to her book nicely sums up the type of man he was.

“This summer,” she continued, “out of nowhere, he decided to buy all of his Facebook friends a copy of my book, Saved by a Song. People who wanted one sent him their address, and I shipped Ray boxes of signed books. He then sent the books to all the people who wanted one.”

“Who does this?” Gauthier wrote. “A generous soul, that’s who. I loved Ray, and I always will. He will be missed by many.”

“Hard to believe he’s gone,” she said. “What a loss to all of us.”

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