Extraordinary Life: A Leader At Church, And In The Community

Ray Lindsey was a gentle but firm man with a challenging job: getting criminal offenders to perform community service — anything from cutting the lawn to painting a school to helping with the Special Olympics.

The offenders were clients of Community Partners in Action, a non-profit organization that works to improve the criminal justice system and reduce recidivism.

“He had a manner about him,” said Maureen Price-Boreland, the organization’s executive director. “He built a level of respect with our participants; he earned that respect.”

Some clients he worked with as community service coordinator were on probation qne some were hoping to avoid jail time, but all faced days or weeks of community service. “Most people don’t want to be there,” said Deanne Scaringe, the recently retired deputy director of CPA. Some clients were resentful that a day’s work wasn’t rewarded by a day’s pay, but Lindsey’s friendly demeanor helped defuse tensions so the job could get done. “You are doing something to beautify your community, and he made it feel special,” Scaringe said. “A lot of clients looked to him as a father figure.”

Raynell Lindsey, 72, died Sept. 12 of cancer. He was a longtime resident of Windsor, and the husband of JoAnn DeCarish Lindsey.

During his quarter of a century with CPA, Lindsey would load six offenders into a van every day and set off on a project he hoped would serve as a model of service to the participants — as well as improve a small corner of the community.

His clients were in custody for a variety of crimes, many triggered by an addiction, and they were hoping to avoid jail through a program that provided an alternative to incarceration. The projects varied, from sorting food at the Regional Market to cleaning toilets or doing carpentry at a YMCA camp, and the only immediate reward was the fast-food lunch Lindsey would provide at a McDonalds. Even though successful community service kept clients out of jail, grumbling was endemic.

“Ray was a master at handling that type of client,” said Melanie McKenna, his former boss at CPA. “He was so wonderful with people, and was a gentleman, so respectful of everyone no matter who you were.”

Community service is one component of CPA’s programs, which also include job training, treatment for addiction and mental-health issues, classes in anger management and assistance in the transition from jail to the community, Price-Boreland said. CPA’s expenses are a fraction of the cost of incarcerating an inmate, and the organization reflects the reality that 95 percent of all inmates will be released from prison. Helping the community also helps the clients gain work and social skills.

Lindsey, a skilled master carpenter, worked alongside his clients, no matter how tedious or dirty the chore. “I would get wonderful reports from agencies [where the clients worked,]’’ McKenna said. “It would get to the point where they didn’t want anyone else but Ray.”

Lindsey, born Jan. 19, 1945, grew up in Evergreen, Ala., the son of J.D. and Josephine Lindsey. He went to trade school and learned carpentry, then joined an older sister in Connecticut when he was a young man. He worked for a time at Pratt & Whitney sharpening gears for airplanes, then joined the carpenters union and worked on large construction projects in Hartford, including City Place and Hartford Steam Boiler. After a friend told him about CPA, he began working in its community service program. He retired formally in 2014 but kept working part-time for several years. A building CPA owns on Washington Street in Hartford has been named for him.

Lindsey played a significant role at the Archer AME Zion Church in Windsor, where he served as the preacher’s steward for more than 30 years and over five pastorates. His role was to care for the pastor and his family, provide leadership in the pastor’s absence and handle the church’s finances. “Nothing happens in the church without his knowledge or OK,” said Bill Campbell, the church’s current pastor. “He was my right-hand man, and best pastor’s steward I’ve ever had.”

“It’s a very big, responsible, position,” said Shirley McKnight, a member of the Archer stewardship committee, which Lindsey chaired. He also sang in the choir, taught church school and oversaw the church’s current building project. Campbell said the new fellowship hall will be named for Lindsey. “His was the only funeral service I almost couldn’t get through. He was the epitome of having a professional, compassionate, functioning preacher’s steward.”

“It’s the most important lay role in the church from an administrative point of view,” said Lloyd McKenzie, the presiding elder of the Boston district of the AME Zion Church, and Archer’s pastor in the 1990s. “Ray was very steady in his thinking, and his very pronounced positions on the life of the church made him a very reassuring presence.”

“He was a kind-hearted guy who loved to laugh, and a spiritual leader,” said Stan Simpson, a TV commentator and a church friend. “His faith was strong and Ray was a spiritual rock. … He never carried himself like he was bigger; he wouldn’t play boss, he didn’t judge people.”

Lindsey came from a large family that enjoyed reunions all around the country, but “family life was not without wrinkles and ripples,” McKenzie said. “In his family, he was the go-to person as well. Becoming who he became included some struggles and still remaining true to whatever you believe in.”

Lindsey had five children with his first wife, but his son Joseph died two years ago, killed in broad daylight on Albany Avenue in Hartford. A suspect was caught but has not yet been tried. “It was difficult [for him], but even in his own anguish he had to reach out to others,” McKenzie said.

Lindsey loved fishing, and every year he would charter a bus and drive 50 or so church members up to Cape Cod, where a rented boat would take the group out to deep water to fish. He froze what he caught and whatever the fishermen gave him, and he used that as the basis for a fish-fry fundraiser at the church. On weekends, he would go fishing in the Long Island Sound with friends or sort donations at Foodshare in Bloomfield. He was an avid golfer who played at Keney Park and Goodwin Park.

In addition to his wife, Lindsey is survived by his children, Tanya Cleveland, Leta George, Raynell Lindsey Jr., Cedric Lindsey, Almetta Hunter, Jonathan, Timothy and Shawn DeCarish; 18 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren and several brothers and sisters.

“His innate spirit was gentle and kind, and he had a fortitude about him that makes him get things done,” said McKenzie, his former pastor. “There’s none like Ray.”

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