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Lorraine Allen: I'm glad I got to know her ... and will miss her dearly

We all come face to face with our principles occasionally, usually those unwitting moments when we get to test if we actually live the lives we proclaim on Facebook.

I write frequently about reaching out and helping people. Getting to know people who don't look like, sounds like or necessarily think as I do. It's really a lesson derived from team sports — a bunch of different people who unite through striving for the same goal.

This is why I was saddened by the recent death of Lorraine Allen, a woman who taught me many lessons and became a friend — although it sure didn't begin that way.

Lorraine and I met through New London Rotary. I became a member two years ago. Lorraine was a veteran of the club as well as All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, the New London Lodge of Elks, the Thames Club.

My initial forays with her were neither friendly nor unfriendly. It wasn't just age that appeared to separate us. I'm gregarious (most of the time) and she seemed reserved. I despise details and she seemed to thrive on them, which drove me batty during some meetings. Plus, she told me she didn't read the sports section.

Here is the "face-to-face-with-your-principles" part. You are always writing about reaching out, you fraud, I recall thinking to myself. Now you're going to stay to yourself and not even attempt to get to know this person?

It was about a year ago now when we were having a Rotary picnic at the home of Reid and Ann Burdick in New London. Reid, the newly elected president, had the whole club over to socialize — and mostly to inhale Ann's beef tenderloin, which could win prizes on the Food Network.

It turned into a wonderful night. Lorraine and I finally got to know each other. I recall getting up to refill her wine glass — which she did not object to whatsoever — before she told me about her life. Grew up in Germany, worked many years at Pfizer, lost her beloved husband, Doug, in 2015 and very proud of her grandchildren.

Then it came to Lorraine's views on the world. I laughed the night away. She suddenly morphed into Sophia from the Golden Girls. There's something about a 70-something woman swearing like she's on a pirate ship that gloriously entertains me. Our relationship changed from that day. I got to spend a year seeking and benefitting from her wisdom.

The point of all this: If I hadn't reached out, I'd never have made a new friend, whose counsel I came to treasure. Many of us have Lorraines in our lives, people with whom we share very little on the surface. Then we learn all over again how we're a lot more similar than we think.

It's a lesson we all need reiterated. Let's face it:

We live in a moment of distrust, deeply fearful of the unknown, or at least what we perceive as the unknown. What we believe isn't so much about hard evidence or shared values, but about rigid allegiances, political and otherwise.

Some of us fall victim to our fears being preyed on. It makes us less and less willing to reach out. Lorraine Allen taught me the lesson all over again: Never stop trying to understand what we don't as yet understand. It's where growth happens.

There will be a celebration of Lorraine's life once life returns to some semblance of normal. For now, though, I asked some of my fellow Rotarians to share their thoughts about her. She deserves as much.

Brian Cole: "Lorraine was a ray of sunshine at every weekly Rotary Club meeting. She was, in the best sense, a real 'dame,'  a true lady with a great sense of humor and of history. Her stories of English monarchs would have entertained the Royals themselves! She was devoted to her late husband Doug; if there is any silver lining in her passing, it is that they are together once again."

Catherine Foley: "Go into the Elks for a Friday night dinner and there was Lorraine serving tables. Visit a Rotary Club meeting and there was Lorraine sharing her love of history and literature. Attend a one of the Thames Club's many themed dinners and there was Lorraine socializing with other members. Attend a Neighborhood Alliance meeting and there was Lorraine giving the treasurer's report. Her love of people and her commitment to service was an inspiration. New London is truly better place because of the gift of Lorraine's presence and her deep commitment to our community."

Reid Burdick: "Lorraine never missed an event and was just a fun lady to be around. She could bounce between people and conversations quickly. At our last picnic, she found my granddaughter, Natalie, sat on a bench and had a really nice talk with her. Then quenched her thirst with a known reporter."

Rick Gipstein: "Among other things, Lorraine was a great supporter of the film history classes that I have taught through New London Adult and Continuing Education. She had an excellent knowledge of and love for many film genres and always contributed to the class discussions after screening the films. Her remarks were both insightful and had a pithy edge that she became known for."

Todd Gipstein: "I got to know Lorraine through my work for Ledge Lighthouse. Doug had been a keeper there, and my interviews with the two of them formed a part of the narration for the documentary I did about the light. She spoke of being on shore and seeing the light blinking out at sea and knowing her beloved Doug was out there. He was a ray of light in her life in many ways, as she was in ours. Her youth in Berlin and subsequent life in the U.S. made for a fascinating tapestry of experiences."

RIP to my friend Lorraine.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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