Blunt, charm­ing, she reigned in Ch­ester for decades

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Passages - By Anne M. Hamil­ton Spe­cial to The Courant

Bar­bara Snow De­laney’s reign over the town of Ch­ester, her adopted home, lasted for nearly five decades. She was the founder of its his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety, the un­of­fi­cial greeter of new­com­ers, a des­ti­na­tion for as­pir­ing Demo­cratic politi­cians, an ex­pert on antiques, a phi­lan­thropist, a host­ess ex­traor­di­naire and a peren­nial vol­un­teer.

To­gether with her late hus­band, Ed­mund T. De­laney, she had her fin­ger in nearly ev­ery as­pect of Ch­ester life.

“In a lot of ways, they were Mr. and Mrs. Ch­ester,” said Lary Bloom, a Ch­ester res­i­dent who wrote for The Courant.

“The ul­ti­mate can-doer, fol­low your dreams, pas­sions and be­liefs,” said Jon Joslow, who served with Bar­bara on the town’s board of fi­nance. He was a stal­wart Repub­li­can; she was “a staunch Demo­crat, ed­u­cated and ar­tic­u­late.” They got along fa­mously and re­mained great friends. “We were in vi­o­lent agree­ment,” he said. “She had val­ues and ethics that res­onated be­yond pol­i­tics. It had to do with what was right.”

Bar­bara Snow De­laney died on March 10 at home af­ter sev­eral years of de­clin­ing health. She was 94.

She was a trail­blaz­ing ca­reer woman in New York, where she rose through the ed­i­to­rial depart­ment of Antiques mag­a­zine to be­come its man­ag­ing ed­i­tor from 1953 to 1968, cul­mi­nat­ing in a spe­cial is­sue on the Shaker art, faith and cul­ture. She also worked with cu­ra­tors from Wil­liams­burg, Va., and Win­terthur, Del., on spe­cial is­sues and pub­li­ca­tions about those his­toric towns and was on the board of the New York City Mu­nic­i­pal Arts So­ci­ety.

She met Ed­mund De­laney, a suc­cess­ful New York lawyer, at a din­ner party and they were mar­ried in 1965. They moved to Ch­ester in 1970, where­upon Bar­bara De­laney al­most im­me­di­ately set about or­ga­niz­ing the town’s first his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety. With typ­i­cal en­ergy and de­ter­mi­na­tion, she over­saw the ren­o­va­tion of the town’s an­cient Meet­ing House. Years later, seek­ing a home for the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety, Bar­bara helped un­der­write the ac­qui­si­tion and ren­o­va­tion of an old mill.

The De­laneys lived in a 10room Colo­nial built in 1815, near the cen­ter of town, which they dec­o­rated in pe­riod fur­ni­ture. It was the site of the in­fa­mous Mon­day night martini get-to­geth­ers, many din­ner par­ties and count­less cel­e­bra­tions of all kinds in the nearby barn. They en­joyed cos­tume par­ties and hosted themed events, like a medieval evening or a royal night when they dressed up as King and Queen. Ed­mund, who had switched from busi­ness law to es­tate plan­ning and trust and es­tates work in an Es­sex law firm, would of­ten wear a kilt — even to a Vet­er­ans’ Day pa­rade.

Ev­ery De­laney event fea­tured an­i­mated dis­cus­sions about pol­i­tics, the arts, antiques, or the new­est ar­rivals in town. De­spite his suc­cess, Ed­mund was a mod­est per­son who drove a Nash, some­times shopped at thrift stores, and stocked in­ex­pen­sive wine and spir­its for his par­ties. Ed­mund, who died in 2000, leaves a daugh­ter, To­pher De­laney, from an ear­lier mar­riage. His son Ni­cholas De­laney, also from his first mar­riage, has died.

The ar­rival of the De­laneys came as Ch­ester was be­com­ing known as a charm­ing vil­lage pop­u­lated by so­phis­ti­cated artists and writ­ers. The civil rights leader and fed­eral judge Con­stance Baker Mot­ley lived there for many years and was a good friend of Bar­bara’s. So did the con­cep­tual artist Sol LeWitt, who moved in some years af­ter the De­laneys.

The con­struc­tion of Route 9 a few decades ear­lier had made the town more ac­ces­si­ble, and it out­grew its deroga­tory nickname, “Dog Town.” De­laney’s in­ter­est in town his­tory — she and her hus­band wrote many books about early Amer­i­can his­tory, houses and fur­ni­ture, among other things — sparked an in­ter­est in the preser­va­tion and ad­mi­ra­tion of its 18th cen­tury build­ings. “She in­spired a whole town to get in­volved,” said Peter Good, a Ch­ester artist and graphic de­signer. “She was mild man­nered but had an abil­ity for per­sua­sion.” She served as one of the in­cor­po­ra­tors of the Con­necti­cut Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion and wrote the text for the his­tor­i­cal mark­ers in Ch­ester.

Bar­bara’s pas­sions of­ten en­tailed get­ting oth­ers on board with her projects, and she was not shy about ask­ing for help, said Good, whose tal­ents de­sign­ing pro­grams and brochures were of­ten sought. “She was charm­ing and re­lent­less,” he re­called. “The phone calls would come in. I would say, ‘We have to say no.’” But he rarely did. “I would get off the phone and say, ‘But this is such a good idea.’ We were part of build­ing this com­mu­nity spirit.”

De­laney could be as blunt as she was charm­ing. “She could be very cranky and bite your head off,” said Bloom, “but she was also a very loyal friend.” When Bloom told her about sev­eral books on which he was work­ing, her re­sponse was, “Who’d want to read that?”

De­laney was also mod­est and not prone to flaunt her back­ground. When Bloom and his wife, Suzanne Levine, were help­ing her write her mem­oirs, they came across a pic­ture of Eleanor Roo­sevelt hold­ing court on the porch of a ru­ral cot­tage sur­rounded by a bevy of young women. One woman looked re­mark­ably like a younger Bar­bara, who offhand­edly ac­knowl­edged that it was her in the pic­ture, but thought it un­nec­es­sary or ir­rel­e­vant to de­scribe the ex­pe­ri­ence. “It was no big deal,” re­called Bloom. Camp­bell Hud­son, an Es­sex lawyer who worked ear­lier in his ca­reer with Ed­mund, said, “she had strong opin­ions, and she got a lot done — not just by be­ing sweet. She was per­sis­tent.”

De­laney loved be­ing well in­formed, read three daily news­pa­pers and kept up with pol­i­tics. “She was a flam­ing lib­eral Demo­crat and a vo­ra­cious con­sumer of news,” said Mary Devins, a long­time friend. “Every­body who was any­body in Con­necti­cut pol­i­tics stopped by on Gorham Road,” where the De­laneys lived. They gave par­ties for for­mer Sen. Chris Dodd and for for­mer pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Howard Dean, as well as other Demo­cratic hope­fuls.

De­laney also took a great in­ter­est in Con­necti­cut Col­lege, her alma mater, and en­dowed a trav­el­ing schol­ar­ship for stu­dents who were in­volved in projects that com­bine lib­eral arts with in­ter­na­tional travel. “It was an in­cred­i­ble gift we can of­fer th­ese kids,” said Devins, the as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of the col­lege’s Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies and Lib­eral Arts. “She loved hear­ing from the kids, meet­ing them, writ­ing them, be­ing en­gaged.”

De­laney joined Judy Joslow to run Ch­ester’s first art gallery, the Wall Fo­cus Gallery, and served on the boards of var­i­ous town and area agen­cies, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dency of Rock­fall Foun­da­tion, de­voted to en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion.

Bar­bara De­laney was born Bar­bara Snow in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, on Sept. 3, 1923. Her fa­ther, Ray­mond C. Snow, was a well-known ar­chi­tect, but af­ter her par­ents di­vorced, she moved with her mother and younger brother Ray­mond C. Snow Jr. to Hartford in 1933. She grad­u­ated from Bulke­ley High School and was still 16 when she en­rolled in Con­necti­cut Col­lege, from which she grad­u­ated with hon­ors in 1944. She is sur­vived by her brother, her step­daugh­ter, To­pher De­laney, and five step-grand­chil­dren.

“She was ded­i­cated and pas­sion­ate about the idea of the com­mon good and had so many ideas that were worth­while and would en­rich Ch­ester in so many ways,” said Good.


Bar­bara Snow De­laney, with her hus­band, Ed­mund T. De­laney, had her fin­ger in nearly ev­ery as­pect of life in the town of Ch­ester. She died ear­lier this year at age 94.

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