“Collusion!” Ray Torrey joked when he was informed that multiple people had successfully nominated him for the 2018 Bayberry Wreath Award.
Torrey is the 35th recipient of the honor, which was started by Peter and Sally Wood in 1984. Torrey now joins a long list of island residents who have a longstanding volunteer commitment to preserving Block Island’s natural resources.
The first recipient was Barbara Burak and the most recent was Tracy Heinz.
It was the first year of the Bayberry Wreath that the Torreys bought their first piece of property on the island. Since that time, Torrey has racked up a considerable list of boards and organizations that he has served on, some of which he still serves on, including three terms as Second Warden, the Zoning Board, Block Island Residents Association, Block Island Health Services Board, the International Student Worker Coalition, a member of Adrian’s Army, the Lions Club, the Land Trust, Block Island American Legion Post 36, and the Block Island Conservancy.
It is this longstanding commitment to community, and in such a variety of ways, that Torrey has earned the 2018 Bayberry Wreath Award.
Torrey is a city boy. “I grew up in New York City, in the borough of Queens. Went to high school in Brooklyn and college in the Bronx.” He described his Queens upbringing as middle class, on a street lined with two-family homes. “We played ball on the sandlot. It was a pretty nice way of growing up. Pretty laid back,” he said.
After college, Torrey went down to Pensacola, Florida to train as a Marine aviation cadet in 1960, where he stayed for 18 months. Then there was a stint in North Caolina and a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1963. He married in 1964, and after his discharge in 1965, Torrey spent 35 years as a pilot with American Airlines, 20 of which he was a captain.
When asked if flying in the 1960s was as glamorous as it’s made out to be in the movies and TV, Torrey said, “It was to me. Clean uniforms. Starched white shirt, and tie,” he said.
Aside from all that, Torrey’s connection to nature may be more biological than environmental. His paternal grandfather, Raymond H. Torrey, was one of the founders of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and “he helped map out the trails in New York and New Jersey. He was a newspaperman, and wrote an outdoor column for the New York Herald.
“I suppose I could have inherited some of that,” said Torrey. “But I really didn’t do much hiking until I retired” — which was in 1999. He would go on walking tours for up to two weeks at a time. (He’s walked the Appalachian Trail, too.)
One of the appeals of Block Island has been its commitment to land conservation, said Torrey. “One of the great things we have going for us is the culture of conservation. That’s a good thing.”
He’s also learned to appreciate his surroundings more. He has recently become interested in birding, and watches the birds that gather at the feeders in his back yard. Torrey also said he hopes that sometime in the future the land conservation organizations on Block Island can find more ways to open up those conserved properties for responsible public use.
With so few sidewalks on Block Island, Torrey said he’s discouraged to walk to church, which is not far from home.
“I’d like to pull for more public access to those properties,” said Torrey, “maybe develop more of a network of pedestrian walkways so that people would be encouraged to walk more instead of using their cars.”
The Bayberry Wreath Award will be presented to Ray Torrey on Sunday, June 10 at 4 p.m.