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Notes from the Old Noank Jail: Richard Latham of Noank passes on

On Sunday, May 2, we lost our dear friend and retired fire chief, Richard Latham, after a long illness.

Over 35 years ago, when our family first moved to Noank, we became involved with both the Noank Baptist Church and the Noank Volunteer Fire Department. At that time, we came to know both Richard and his wife Joan Latham, who were both very active leaders in this local community.

Richard was raised in Noank, graduated from Fitch High, then worked in production and pipe-fitting at Dow Chemical from 1952 until his retirement.

He served over 63 years with the fire department and as chief for 30 of those years, starting in 1966, along with serving tours as president of Groton Fire Officers and as a Life Member of New London County Fire Chiefs.

His retirement party in 1997 as the Noank chief was one of the largest we’ve ever attended, taking up the entire ballroom of the Mystic Hilton hotel. But he never actually stopped responding on emergency fire calls until just a few years ago.

Joan Latham, who passed away Jan. 4, 2019, was married to Richard for almost 67 years and was active in the church as a deacon, president of Ladies Aid Society and Fidelis. Joan served as the housewife and mother of their two children, Mark and Johanna, and helped operate the Brownie, Cub and Boy Scouts where their children participated.

What drew our attention was the love and positive attention that Richard and Joan bestowed on both their children and multiple grandchildren. This was evidenced by their major efforts to attend every possible athletic event that involved these kids, as far away Delaware.

If Richard could not attend, Joan was frequently accompanied by her sister Cynthia Borden, and both ladies made sure all the team kids had an apple and a cookie for the trip.

When giving a testimonial to Richard at his retirement dinner, son Mark remarked at the strong support he had received from his parents at the athletic events and that “they were always there.”

This spirit hearkens back to the older days of the “Noank Families.” Their values are lasting and the basis for hard work and personal achievement. In a world now complicated by politics and technology, their uncomplicated attitudes still give us hope for the future.

And there was yet another aspect of support that Richard and Joan Latham extended to their families and friends ... the almost annual saga of taking kids to Disney World in Florida. If you ever needed to know about any of the rides, when they were re-built or changed, or the year the monorail broke down, and what airline flights were best, the Lathams were more effective than travel agents.

For this, we were always grateful, in spite of the fact that we once found ourselves stuck in a Disney tunnel ride that didn’t move for over 15 minutes and had to listen repeatedly to very loud little artificial elves shrieking the song, “Its a small world after all!!”

And, not too surprisingly, Joan always claimed that Richard himself was “the biggest kid of all,” when it came to going on the thrill rides ... most especially the roller coaster with the long tunnel. However, she frequently howled loudly if she caught him climbing on the steep roof of their large Noank house to make repairs, claiming “no sensible man in his 80s should be climbing on a roof.”

Yes, we will greatly miss Richard Latham, as we already miss Joan very much.

Ed Johnson and his daughter Lacy live in Noank.

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