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Those We Lost: 'In the Village' author Anthony Bailey dies of COVID-19

The writer Anthony C. Bailey, whose 1971 book "In the Village" detailed life in Stonington Borough, where he and his wife lived in the 1960s, died May 13 of the coronavirus in Harwich, Essex, England.

He was 87.

His daughter Annie Bailey told The New York Times her father had contracted COVID-19 in a care facility after surgery to repair a broken hip.

Bailey was born Jan. 5, 1933, in Portsmouth, England. He spent World War II as an evacuated child in Dayton, Ohio, returned to England to read history at Oxford, then served in the West African Frontier Force in Ghana. In 1955, back in the U.S., Bailey met Margot Speight, a native of Yorkshire. They married in 1957, and shortly thereafter he started a 35-year career as a staff writer at The New Yorker.

In addition to his work for the magazine and authoring "In the Village," Bailey wrote two locally based works of maritime nonfiction, "The Thousand Dollar Yacht" and "The Coasts of Summer." His love of and expertise in art was reflected in highly regarded biographies of the painters Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, and his study of the latter, "Standing in the Sun," was republished by Tate in commemoration of a touring exhibition of the artist's watercolors recently on display at Mystic Seaport.

Prior to Bailey's death, plans had been underway in Stonington for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of "In the Village."

"Before Tony's passing, I had been working with him and his daughters to mark the book's anniversary with a variety of public events and, we hope, a reprint of the book," said Stonington Borough resident Geoffrey Little, an acquaintance and admirer of Bailey.

Little said plans for the celebration are going forward and should include a photo exhibit and an oral history of the last five decades of life in Stonington Borough. "Now it will be both a celebration of Bailey's literary legacy and an occasion to look back on a half-century of life here in the borough," Little said in an email.

In a 1971 review of "In the Village," The New York Times compared Bailey's microcosmic study of life in his adopted Stonington Borough to Thoreau's observational eloquence in "Walden." But unlike Thoreau's focus on nature, the review said, "Bailey chose (the Borough) to get closer to the press of humanity, for he thrives on the involvements of community living and has been positively delighted to find 'that contact is what the village is all about; we can't avoid people ... it behooves us to know' them."

The review describes the final chapter of "In the Village" as "unique and moving in a way that is quite indescribable. Up on his roof repairing shingles one day, (Bailey) tires and climbs to the ridge for a rest and a look around. What follows is simple enough — a description of the neighboring rooftops, the church spires, the skylines, the village from above. I can't pinpoint what's exciting about it; perhaps it's simply that Bailey has gotten us high and soaring in a world he loves. But one's scalp tingles, and one's throat catches a little."

A longtime friend of Bailey's, Noank resident Stephen Jones, a historian, author and retired professor of writing, English literature and coastal and maritime studies at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, noted that Bailey's time in the Borough, where he lived a few blocks from the poet James Merrill, was indeed a committed investment.

"Unlike other big time writers who spent some time here, Tony was part of the community," Jones said in a text message, adding, "He was the best sustained writer of prose work in southeastern Connecticut in the last half of the 20th century."

Bailey is survived by his wife, Margot; four daughters, Liz Bailey-Connor, Annie Bailey, Katie Bailey and Rachel Bailey; along with nine grandchildren and a sister, Bridget Sojourner.

r.koster@theday.com

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