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Charles Raebeck Fighting For Suffolk County

20170601_Obit_Charles_RaebeckCharles Raebeck was a major figure in fighting for the environment of Suffolk County. He led Suffolk for Safe Energy, an early group battling the plans of the Long Island Lighting Company to build seven to eleven nuclear power plants in Suffolk. He and his wife Audrey were integral in saving the first professionally-staffed local environmental group in the nation, the Group for America’s South Fork. They became co-directors and brought stability to the Group.
Dr. Raebeck was my favorite professor. Indeed, he was the greatest professor I have ever known (and I’ve been in academia for nearly 40 years myself as a professor of journalism).
Last week, a “celebration” of the life of Dr. Raebeck was held at Peconic Landing, the retirement community in Greenport, where he and his wife Audrey have been happily living. I went with noted artist Dan Welden, on whom Dr. Raebeck also had a large impact. Dan and I were students at Adelphi-Suffolk College (Dan, originally from Babylon, was class president). With about 200 students and 15 faculty in its first years, in a former pubic school building—“Old 88”—in Sayville, it was small “and people got to know each other well,” recounted Dan as we drove. It later became Dowling College in Oakdale which sadly shut down last year. I took every class given by Dr. Raebeck, a professor of educational psychology.
Speaking about his father at the celebration, Barry Raebeck said: “Charlie had the common touch as much as anyone I’ve ever known. He was a friend to everyone he knew, and completely uninterested in rank or social status. I remember being annoyed as a boy when he declined using ‘Dr.’ as a preface to his name, me feeling that he deserved the title. But he didn’t want to separate himself from the postman, or the gas station attendant, the bartender…the fisherman, or the garbage man. He truly did not consider himself superior in any way.”
“I, however, do consider him superior in many ways. He was superior in his drive to make the world a better place—in terms of our environment, our education system, our social justice, and our political direction….Charlie marched for civil rights—in the 1950s and the 60s and the 70s….He took us, as kids, to see Martin Luther King, he took us to Washington, he kindled a tremendous sense of the right cause—be if for the poor, the dispossessed, the war torn, the oppressed, the people who most needed defending.” He “was compassionate, persevering, fearless, informed, resilient and friendly to a fault…And also whimsical, clever, spontaneous, and entirely unique….One of a kind indeed,” said Barry, himself an educator with a doctorate.
Daughter Wendy, an author, described Dr. Raebeck as a “great” person, always “selfless” and “optimistic….He gave us all wise counsel and seemed to have a second sense, his own recipe for life….Dad was always way ahead of his time.” He was deeply committed to environmental preservation when virtually no one “understood [environmental] stewardship.” She said “Dad truly loved life,” and he explained that as an only child he did not have siblings as friends—“so early on I made life my friend.” She said family members called him “Steds” for his steadiness.
Indeed, Dr. Raebeck was extraordinarily steady. I vividly recall him, now more than 50 years later, in front of our class, sporting a casual flannel plaid shirt, resembling actor Lloyd Bridges, calmly, clearly, steadily teaching.
Another son, Shelby (Skip), also an educator, said his dad “loved thinking, loved ideas.”
Charlie’s stepson Christopher Kelley said he “always urged us to challenge authority.” Mr. Kelley, a partner in the law firm originally founded by the late Tom Twomey and Steve Latham, which was heavily involved in anti-nuclear work, noted how Charlie and Audrey (who also was an education professor at Dowling) were arrested in a demonstration at the Shoreham nuclear power plant site. Grassroots efforts were important in stopping it from operating. Charlie “taught us about the absurdity of war and human conflict,” he said.
Many others spoke including Mr. Latham who talked about Dr. Raebeck’s “love of this place, love of the environment” and his dedication to keeping Suffolk “free of nuclear power plants.”
Another former student of Dr. Raebeck’s, Dr. Paul Moschetta, now a psychotherapist, called him a “beautiful guy” and shared: “Charlie was the first sane adult to focus a beam in my direction.” He described Charlie and Audrey as a “miracle couple” and said the weekly gatherings they held for years at their home have continued “and the spirit of Charlie and Audrey pulse through them.”
I also spoke and told of having known no greater person in my life.
Charlie died at 95 after a life full of accomplishment and good work. He leaves Audrey, five children and two step-children—Chris and David Kelley, the corruption-fighting former United States Attorney—along with many students whom he deeply inspired.

Filed in: Suffolk Closeup

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