Carol Kimball, keeper of Groton's memory, dies at 94

Carol W. Kimball rides in the Groton Independence Day parade on July 4, 2006.
Carol W. Kimball rides in the Groton Independence Day parade on July 4, 2006. Day file photo

Groton - Carol W. Kimball, considered by many to be the definitive source on the history of Groton and the shoreline, died Tuesday morning. She was 94.

"She was the collective memory of our town. She knew everything," said Hali Keeler, director of the Bill Memorial Library in Groton. "If anyone ever had a question - we would often get requests from people from out of town about not just genealogy but things that happened in town, events that might have occurred - and we had exhausted all our resources, we would say, 'Call Carol,' because Carol knew everything."

Kimball had been in failing health for much of the last year and had been living at the Fairview Odd Fellows Home, where she was on dialysis.

She stepped down from her post as town historian - which she had held since 1985 - last fall. She is the only person in town history who has held that post.

Kimball began her historical work in the 1970s while a teacher in Groton, said Marilyn Comrie, with whom she had written several books and worked on historical projects. Though she grew up in Quaker Hill, Kimball was asked to teach local history to her class of third-graders at Mystic Academy.

"And Carol said, 'Where's the book?' and they said there wasn't one," Comrie said. "So she wrote one. And that was the first basic history of Groton and it's been used ever since."

To Kimball, Groton's past was chock-full of interesting topics. She continued her work up until her death, even saying she would be available to answer questions on town history from her nursing home bed if necessary, Comrie said.

"Mystic captains were going all over the world," Kimball said in a 2005 interview with The Day. "We have the Indians. Fort Griswold. Ships going into the water. I'm just lucky so much happened here."

Jim Streeter, the mayor of the town of Groton, worked closely with Kimball on historical topics. The two developed a close friendship.

"She was my mentor, as far as local history is concerned," Streeter said. "Like everybody else, I absorbed everything that she wrote and everything she would say because it was so very, very important to me and to the community. Her knowledge of Groton and Groton's history is beyond belief."

He co-wrote several books on the town's history with Kimball and dedicated his most recent book, "Groton: Historical Bits and Pieces," to her.

"Carol's tireless efforts and dedication to document and report local history places her among the elite of area historians," Streeter wrote. "Our community owes a debt of gratitude to Carol W. Kimball, and dedicating this book to her is a small way of saying 'thank you.'"

She was a prolific writer on the town's history, penning several books and a weekly column for The Day about historical topics. More than two decades ago, after spotting Kimball's writing in a local historical society newsletter, an editor at The Day approached her about writing a weekly column.

Timothy Dwyer, The Day's executive editor, said Kimball worked to illuminate the stories that made the area what it is today.

"Carol Kimball was a treasured voice in the community, the guardian of our history," Dwyer said. "She made the echoes of past events come alive in the pages of The Day. She was a storyteller in the true sense of the word, connecting us to famous and ordinary people who shaped the region. Carol's stories were always rich with details and she always provided the context to make them relevant to our lives today."

Not only did her work entertain and inform, it motivated other writers and historians to hone their own craft, said Kenton Robinson, her editor at The Day for the past two years.

"History was personal for Carol, and the past was very much present," Robinson said. "She had the gift of being able to convey that to readers with warmth and humor in a frank, conversational style. When you read one of her columns, time telescoped, and you could feel the ghosts of the past walking among us, still very much alive.

"She was always 'plugged in' to current events, trading e-mails and jumping on ideas for columns, making her the envy of younger writers at the paper, who hoped they would be as vibrant, and as engaged with the world as she was when, with luck, they reached her age."

Harry Watson, a town councilor and the former mayor of Groton, said Kimball was always willing to share a story about the town's history, either in personal conversations or while speaking at a public event. They both attended Union Baptist Church in Mystic.

"Her mind was so sharp," he said. "She was a wonderful person to sit down and listen to and just have her tell you a story."

To many historians in the area, Kimball was a frequent source and a faithful correspondent. Bill Peterson, a former Mystic Seaport curator, said the two often interacted while working on new projects.

"We didn't work at the same place, but she was a valued colleague nonetheless," Peterson said. "She was always happy to share her knowledge - she was an inspiration in that regard. She's going to be sorely missed, especially in the local historian community."

Kimball, who was predeceased by her husband, Burton, leaves two children: Barbara, who lives in New Hampshire, and Paul, who lives in Maryland. Information on calling hours and a funeral have not yet been announced.

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