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RICHARD TEN DYKE PHOTO

Richard Lemon in 2009 at his home in Bedford.

 
Richard C. Lemon, man of letters, dies at 81


By JOHN ROCHE & R.J. MARX


Richard C. Lemon, 81, a longtime resident of Bedford, died of a stroke Friday, June 29, at Northern Westchester Hospital. A literary man active in Bedford political affairs, Mr. Lemon was in 1969 the first Democrat elected to the Bedford Town Board in the 20th century and served two four-year terms, subsequently becoming chairman of the conservation board. He was also a member of the town’s ethics board and affordable housing authority in his 35th year in town government.

County Legislator Peter Harckham said he was stunned and saddened to learn of Mr. Lemon’s death. “Dick was a very good friend, as is Molly,” referring to Mr. Lemon’s wife, Mr. Harckham said. “His death is a real blow, and I’m going to miss him dearly. Dick had a sharp wit, a great sense of humor and a great intellect, and he cared deeply about people and about the town of Bedford.”

Mr. Harckham, a resident of Katonah, pointed to Mr. Lemon’s many interests and passions. “Dick had a tremendous love of family, he was a very loyal friend, he had a keen interest in politics, he was passionate about affordable housing and was so active in many issues in Bedford and on a broader scale,” Mr. Harckham said. “Dick also mentored an entire generation now involved in public service, including me.”

Bedford Supervisor Lee Roberts recalled Mr. Lemon’s myriad contributions to the town, not only during his tenure on the town board but as a member of various committees. But she also said Mr. Lemon added to the fabric of the town just by the type of person he was.

LEMON FAMILY PHOTO

Richard Lemon, in an undated photo.

 
Born July 13, 1930, in Providence, R.I., to Alfred B. Lemon and Charlotte Russell Lemon, Mr. Lemon attended Moses Brown School; Kent School, where he founded the literary magazine; and Yale, where he was chairman of The Yale Record humor magazine and a member of Beta Theta Pi, the Torch Honor Society and the Wolf’s Head Society. He graduated in 1952. He married his wife, Mary (Molly) Robbins in 1952, three days after his graduation from Yale.

Mr. Lemon spent two years aboard the destroyer U.S.S. New, then became a reporter for Talk of the Town at The New Yorker magazine, publishing a dozen humorous pieces and poems there. In 1959 he became the movie critic of Newsweek, then TV critic and general writer, and from 1964 to 1969 was a writer/editor at The Saturday Evening Post. When the Post folded, he wrote two books for Newsweek and the American Medical Association, and in 1971 became editor of the New York Daily News Magazine, which during his editorship won a dozen design and writing awards.

The Lemons have lived in their house in Bedford since 1963, and also have a home in Sebastopol, Calif.

Columnist Foxy Gwynne, a longtime friend of Mr. Lemon’s, wrote a profile of Mr. Lemon for The Record-Review in 2000.

“While many people might spend an entire career working for a single magazine, local resident Dick Lemon has been editor of no less than six feature periodicals, starting with The New Yorker and moving on to Newsweek, The Saturday Evening Post, the Daily News Magazine, People and finally Entertainment Weekly,” Ms. Gwynne wrote.

Mr. Lemon recounted highlights of his publishing career with Ms. Gwynne.

He said he knew early, at age 12, that he would be a writer when he wrote a story about a dead soldier on Guadalcanal. “Everyone said it was wonderful, and I thought ‘this is what I want to do,’” he told Ms. Gwynne. “While I was at camp I wrote about a character, Freckles Flanagan, who did things like pour syrup into the bugler’s bugle. When my stories were read out aloud Sunday nights at the camp lodge, I said ‘this is for me.’”

While at Kent School, Mr. Lemon started a literary magazine; at Yale, Mr. Lemon, who loved the humor of The Yale Record, became its chairman. When The New York Times Magazine featured a pro and con article on college humor, it pitted the now-eminent John McPhee (then chairman of the Princeton humor magazine) against Mr. Lemon, who represented the Elis.

The Korean War landed Mr. Lemon on a naval destroyer for two years — enough time to put together a yearbook on the ship’s Mediterranean cruise. On leaving the navy, he remembered that two Yale professors had expressed interest in writing recommendations on his behalf. He sent one letter to Geoffrey Hellman of The New Yorker, a writer who suggested Mr. Lemon write two Talk of the Town pieces as a tryout. McGraw-Hill offered him a job as a reader, and he flew down from Maine, where he and Mrs. Lemon were summering, and gave a last-ditch call to The New Yorker.

In 1959, at age 29, Mr. Lemon was told by a friend that there was an opening at Newsweek for a movie critic, under the terms of a three-week tryout. People at The New Yorker urged him to go and return if it didn’t work out. But for Mr. Lemon, an avid moviegoer, the new job worked out, of course, and he spent three years writing film reviews.

A few years later, in the mid-1960’s, The Saturday Evening Post hired Mr. Lemon to write eight articles a year. “I think I was paid then about $4,000 an article,” he said. “I was there five years, until it folded. I enjoyed writing long pieces.”

He interviewed and wrote about Jackie Kennedy, the Beatles, Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Natalie Wood, Ben Shahn, Alexander Calder, Anne Bancroft, Sophia Loren, Princess Grace of Monaco, John Cassavetes, Katherine Hepburn, Frederic March and Sid Caesar, among others, and in 1987 he was the editor of a groundbreaking People cover story on 24 hours in the AIDS crisis in America.

In 1979 he began writing novels at home while working a day a week for People, where he became a senior writer, then senior editor. In 1990 he became assistant managing editor of Entertainment Weekly, then new and struggling, and it was named Magazine of the Year three years later.

Mr. Lemon published one novel, “The Probity Chorus,” which was nominated for best novel of 1986 by the Westchester Library Association, and in 1976 he won the New York Newspaper Guild’s Page One Award for best feature writing for “Confessions of a Small Time Politician.” He retired in 1996.

Retirement at home in Bedford meant writing fiction six to eight hours a day, working in his sundial garden and playing tennis with a “geezer group,” along with trips to visit family in California.

As a town board member and later volunteer, Mr. Lemon was active in promoting affordable housing in the area. “Volunteers are disappearing because they can’t afford to live here,” he said.

The town board held a moment of silence for Mr. Lemon at its public meeting on July 3.

“Dick Lemon made so many important contributions to Bedford,” Ms. Roberts said. “Besides being a former town board member, he served on our board of ethics, the Blue Mountain Housing Corporation and our filming committee. He was also one of the founders of the Bedford Coalition. Dick was a kind and thoughtful person with a wonderful sense of humor and an engaging personality, and he was always generous with his time and talent when it came to helping the town. We are deeply saddened at his death. Our thoughts are with his wife, Molly, and their family.”

Town board member David Gabrielson said he too was saddened by Mr. Lemon’s death. “He was a lovely guy, and always so fun and interesting to speak with,” Mr. Gabrielson said. “I first got to know him when I ran for the town board in 2007. Dick was a district leader, and he and Dick Lawrence were the last two Democrats to serve on the town board before Chris Burdick and I were elected five years ago. He really loved Bedford, and will be missed.”

Mr. Burdick said he is especially grateful for the support that Mr. Lemon extended when he ran for his first time on the board. “I remember well how Dick was thrilled when David and I first ran in 2007,” Mr. Burdick said. “He encouraged us both, helping us throughout the campaign.”

Mr. Burdick also shared fond memories of conversations with Mr. Lemon, and touched on his contributions to the town.

“I remember talking with Dick in late March 2009 after one of his close friends, Ted Hawryluk, died. He recalled fondly how he, Dick Lawrence, George Delaney and Ted were called the ‘Four Horsemen’ of the local Democratic Party,” Mr. Burdick recalled. “Dick poured his heart and soul into Bedford. He loved the community, and served it well as a town board member, a member of the conservation board and ethics board, and until his death, serving on Bedford’s Blue Mountain Housing Corporation. He always had the best interest of Bedford in mind. I will sorely miss Dick.”

Mr. Lemon is survived by his wife, Molly; two sons, Ben and his wife, Fionn, of Los Angeles, Calif., and Ted and his wife, Heidi, of Sebastopol; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Northern Westchester Hospital.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

 

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