The passing of a 103-year-old man can hardly come as a surprise even if that man, former Kingston historian Ed Ford, had hoped to reach 110.
I’d have put money on it, so when his devoted and doting late-life companion Sue Hummel of Kingston called Thursday morning to tell me of his passing at Golden Hill infirmary, I was a bit surprise. Sue and I had talked about Ed only a week ago and it seemed as if he was adjusting to his new surroundings.
I made plans to visit and loan him my two books on the 1918 pandemic, one of which was written in 2018.
Ed Ford was born on a farm between Highland and New Paltz in 1918. The family moved to Kingston ten years later. He served in the army during World War II and married his late wife Ruth after the war. Ed attended two years at what was then called the New Paltz Normal School, hoping to become a teacher. Jobs were scarce and they had a baby to support. Together, they established Ford Printing in Kingston. One of the firm’s regular customers was the local real estate listing service (MLS) where Ford took photos of buildings and printed flyers on the various properties for sale around Kingston. Ford’s interest in local history evolved as did his book “Street Whys” in later years.
Ed was active in the historic preservation movement for many years before he was named city historian by former Mayor Peter Mancuso in 1984. Those Friends of Historic Kingston probably saved City Hall from demolition in the mid-’70s, and many others. It seemed that any time a building over 50 years old was threatened with demolition, Ed Ford and “Friends” would mount a defense.
Professionally speaking, Ed Ford and I ran across each other in the early ‘70s when I was Freeman city hall reporter covering the emerging historic movement in Kingston. Ed and friends were frequent subjects.
While we became fast friends over the years, we did have something in common from the onset. Ed Ford and my mother were born in the spring of 1918, he on April 15, she on May 1. The Red Baron, Germany’s World War I flying ace, was shot down almost exactly mid-way between their birthdays. The Baron’s last mission is mentioned almost every year in one of those “on this date” features in the paper. To my knowledge this is the first time he’s been linked in print with Mary Carey and Ed Ford.
For a newspaper reporter, Ed was a joy to work with. He was a scholar with an almost Google-like filing system written in long hand on stacks of index cards. Most of the town’s history he knew off the top of his head, but if there was the slightest doubt, he’d go to the cards.
He was generous with praise, kind with criticism, rarely raising his voice. On occasion, I’d get a date or a person or an event wrong, even after consulting with the sage beforehand. He would call immediately; the Freeman was the official record, and patiently, politely, like a favorite uncle, set me straight.
He felt a responsibility for that record and a duty to protect it. City historians before Ed Ford were for the most part caretakers. Ed was an advocate. He made a difference.
He was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met, and, unlike workaday politicians, I use that word sparingly.
Ed finally retired in 2019, but was always available. His successor, Taylor Bruck, 29, introduced at a testimonial for Ed at City Hall that year, expressed amazement at succeeding a man who was almost three times his age. As young Bruck has learned since then, Ed Ford was a great deal more than that.
Before concluding, I must mention the close relationship Ed Ford (it sounds like one name after a while, doesn’t it?) and county clerk Nina Postupack developed during the almost 15 years they worked together on historic projects. Postupack, in her own way as much a history buff as the historian, augmented his efforts with public displays outside her offices of county historic records, some dating back to the mid-17th century founding of Kingston.
Commissioner of Jurors Paul O’Neill, one of Ed’s closest friends and sometimes collaborator, frequently referred to Ed Ford as one of the few city officials that everybody loved. Amen to that.
Ed Ford was a life well led, to the benefit of his adopted hometown and to future generations.
May he rest in peace.