Richard Clark Carpenter was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, as well as an acclaimed railroad cartographer and the longtime executive director of the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency. He died peacefully Tuesday at his home in East Norwalk, after a brief illness. He was 86.
Mr. Carpenter built his life around the basic missions that people should work to make the world better for all, especially the poorest among us, and that simple beauty – whether in the form of an old wooden sailboat, a powerful steam locomotive, or the gleeful laughter of his grandchildren - was worth seeking out and enjoying.
He is survived by his beloved wife of 61 years, Mary Jane (Campbell); daughter Ellin (Matthew) Smith of Windsor; son John (Mary) of Wilmette, IL; grandchildren Diana Rose Smith, and Sally and Patrick Carpenter; sister Marion Lang of West Hartford; and brother Philip (Anne) of Bloomfield, as well as many nieces and nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
He is preceded in death by his beloved daughter, Jane Elizabeth; and his parents, Katherine and Philip.
Born in 1933 in Wethersfield, Connecticut, Mr. Carpenter graduated from Wethersfield High School in 1951, and Boston College in 1955. After serving as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army artillery, he and Mary Jane were married at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in East Norwalk in 1958.
Mr. Carpenter earned a Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania in 1962, and began his career working in the planning department of the City of Hartford before becoming the first Town Planner of Wilton in 1963. He was appointed executive director of the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency in 1966, and held that job until his retirement in 1999. Considered an expert in transportation issues, he was appointed to the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission by Gov. Ella Grasso, and he represented Connecticut on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in New York.
Mr. Carpenter, in his retirement, set out to memorialize the golden age of American railroads, eventually producing five volumes of “A Railroad Atlas of the United States in 1946,” published to critical acclaim by Johns Hopkins University Press. Mr. Carpenter particularly enjoyed a notice in The New Yorker magazine, which called the first volume of the finely detailed work "the most appealingly eccentric” book of the year. The hand-drawn atlases were cherished by both rail fans and geographers as a vital historical record of both active and long-abandoned American rail lines. Mr. Carpenter regularly communicated with grateful readers, and enjoyed answering questions about the book long after the last volume was published.
He was a member of the National Railway Historical Society, Irish Railway Record Society, the Signalling Record Society, and a member of the historical and technical organizations of nine different railroads.
Mr. Carpenter was a longtime member of the St. Thomas the Apostle Choir.
He was especially proud of his three grandchildren, and loved hearing about - and attending when he was able - their music recitals, baseball games, swim meets and art exhibits. A proud alumnus of Boston College along with his son (BC ’84) he enjoyed hearing about life on “the Heights” these days from his grandson, Patrick, a member of the class of ’21.
Mr. Carpenter and his wife enjoyed sailing for many years, and were longtime members of the Shore and Country Club. They also cherished summer visits with their children and grandchildren to the family cottage in Point Judith, Rhode Island, built by Mr. Carpenter’s grandparents.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
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