Internet legacy lives on within Raymond family
FAIRFAX — Sure, Henry Raymond is a grandpa, but he’s no slouch when it comes to technology. He’s also a dad and on this Father’s Day weekend the community work he’s taken on for years plays into that fact, too.
Most people in Franklin County may know him as “vtgrandpa,” the webmaster of “Fairfax Information Sites.” Beginning as just an e-mail chain among family and friends after he retired from IBM in 1992, Raymond’s musings and updates spread to more corners and eventually evolved into a full website.
“They have a lot of free websites out there,” said Raymond in an interview Thursday.
While he initially used free platforms, Raymond said they were difficult to work with when, every time he switched to a new page, an ad would pop up. Fortunately, a Bellows Free Academy-Fairfax student took interest in the project, a recently graduated senior by the name Larry Ward.
“He sent me a note one day,” said Raymond. “[He asked], ‘How would you like your own website?’”
Ward helped Raymond get a site up and running by 2003, and vtgrandpa.com has been a favorite of Fairfax residents ever since. It’s had over 900,000 visitors in the intervening years and it currently has 506 contributing forum members that Raymond has approved to post.
While Raymond has been the main procurer of vtgrandpa.com – and has transitioned between several models of computer, including his most recent device, an iPad – the Fairfax resident is getting on in years, and all the forums, photos, news posts, community calendar, advertisements and other projects are a lot to manage.
“I’m going to be 82 in November,” said Raymond. “My mind isn’t as good as it used to be.”
Fortunately, Raymond has a technology savvy daughter who lives right next door.
“I’m known as Henry Raymond’s daughter [in town],” said Mary Kay Raymond, laughing.
Mary Kay, 45, has been helping her father more and more over the past year or two. It began with taking photographs of events in the afternoon, and now, she helps him manage the website as a whole.
“It’s kind of been an evolving thing,” she said. “It’s a lot for him at this point. He started taking steps back and I started taking steps forward. I try to do as much as I can.”
“I made her an administrator,” said Raymond. “She knows my thinking on certain things.”
While Mary Kay has two older siblings – Lynn Empey, who lives in Bellows Falls, and Sharon Raymond, who lives in Hampton, N.H. – she’s the one who’s most set up to take on the vtgrandpa.com legacy.
“I’ve been the computer kid,” Mary Kay said. She took computer classes at IBM when she was younger, and she now works for Verizon Wireless as the phone company pushes farther into smartphone territory. This week, in fact, Mary Kay was in Windsor, Conn., taking technology trainings through work.
Mary Kay is also an active community member in Fairfax. She’s the vice chair of the Parks & Recreation Committee board, and also runs the Fairfax Facebook page. In general, Mary Kay said she loves the town and is dedicated to the community, which is why she helps out with vtgrandpa.com.
“It’s a significant website for the town,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a place for the community to find information. It is a legacy that I don’t want to let go or see it go away.”
Raymond said of his daughter, “She’s very knowledgeable about the town – she knows what’s going on. She’s really involved.”
He added, “She is a native Fairfax individual through and through.”
On any given day, you may find Henry and Mary Kay Raymond in Henry’s living room, he on his iPad and she on her smartphone, posting on or managing vtgrandpa. While she visits her dad at least twice a day, Mary Kay does go away for her Verizon Wireless trainings. During those periods – like this week – she keeps in touch with her dad through Facebook, messaging back and forth with him multiple times a day.
“I use Facebook a lot,” said Raymond. “I can get ahold of the any of the kids really fast. I have to report in to all my three girls when I leave, and again when I get back.”
He estimated that he talks with his kids 10 to 15 times online each day. During an interview with this reporter, for instance, his iPad pinged with a new message from Mary Kay.
While Raymond sticks to using private messaging with his daughters, he chuckled on what he sees other people posting on the site.
“People that air their dirty linens on there – I can’t believe some of the things they say and do,” he said.
Like a true newsman, Raymond keeps personal matters private and sticks to the facts and observations only on Facebook, his website and in interviews. When asked about his bond with Mary Kay, Raymond said he spent a lot of time with all his girls as they grew up, working in the garden or playing outside.
Now, Mary Kay dedicates her time to helping out her dad, and not just with vtgrandpa.com.
“She takes me to all my doctor’s appointments and goes in with me – I think to make sure I do what I’m supposed to,” said Raymond, chuckling. Mary Kay has also helped set up her father to do billing since 2010, when his wife, Mary Ann, died at age 69.
“Mary Ann did all the bills,” said Raymond. “[But Mary Kay] went in there and set things up so I would know what was going on.”
When Raymond broke his hip a couple years ago and had to spend some time recovering in a nursing facility, Mary Kay would visit with her father often, too.
Raymond suspected that now he’s living at home, Mary Kay most likely has people to watch over him when she’s away at trainings through Verizon Wireless.
“I’m sure she has two or three people watching me to make sure I’m not doing anything stupid,” he said.
Raymond said of all his daughter’s help, “It’s a lot for her,” he said. “She never complains.”
Mary Kay said the decision to help her dad came when she was offered a job opportunity in Hawaii in 1997. “I had a week to think about it, and [then] dad had his first heart attack,” she said. “That was it.”
Mary Kay stayed nearby her parents, with whom she had always been close. “Us girls had two parent role models,” said Mary Kay. “I have a very strong bond with both of my parents.”
With her dad, Mary Kay said their relationship is especially centered on computers, and now, vtgrandpa.com. “It’s a bond that connects us in a lot of ways,” she said. “I always look up to him to know how to approach things.”
The time they spend together, too, is affecting. It’s obvious – even if her father doesn’t vocalize it – that when Mary Kay is away for the week for trainings, Raymond misses her.
“I always get a big hug when I get back on Friday,” she said.