Judy Bailey, who died Sunday at age 73, was first and foremost a farm wife and mother. But she had so much talent and smarts that she was destined to find outlets beyond the dairy farm on South County Trail where she lived with her husband, Rodney, and raised four children.
She served on a variety of boards and committees during her life – from the Planning Board and Town Council, to the R.I. Agricultural Lands Commission and the state Board of Elections.
She served as president of the Town Council for two years. At the same time, she was working as a cashier at Almacs in Coventry (as well as tending to farm life). Then Town Manager Bill Sequino would sometimes drive over to the Almacs so she could sign papers.
“She was a good friend,” recalled Sequino this week. “She did a lot for the community.… She probably did a lot that you didn’t see."
Judy was one of the people who helped get the historic Kent County Courthouse remodeled into EG’s Town Hall in the 1990s.
“A real lady,” said Carl Hoyer via email about Judy. Hoyer served on the Town Council with her. “I was saddened to hear of her passing. I remember some interesting situations where she, as president of the Town Council, handled matters with dispatch and understanding. She was hard not to like. Gracious, pleasant and polite, but would not take any nonsense.”
Judy is fondly remembered as half of the "News from Frenchtown" team – Judy and Nancy Lemoi wrote the column for the Rhode Island (then “East Greenwich”) Pendulum for decades.
Mark Thompson, now a writer at Time magazine, recalled how the pair inherited the column and what it became under their supervision:
“I came to know Judy when I was working at the Pendulum nearly 40 years ago. Like many old-time papers, the paper used to publish weekly columns about specific neighborhoods written by residents of those neighborhoods. But by the time the paper reached its 125th birthday in the mid-1970s, only Olive B. Harrington remained as such a neighborhood columnist.
“Her beat was Frenchtown, and she covered it well, in a bake-sale and broken-leg kind of way (“Frenchtown Baptist will have a bake sale this Saturday. Be sure to stop by for the Briggs’ doughnuts…Carr P. Tillinghast broke his leg Monday while trying to push his 500-pound pumpkin into the back of his Ford 150…”).
“When it came time for Olive B. to retire, Judy Bailey and her pal, Nancy Lemoi, stopped by the Pendulum and volunteered to take her place. It made for a more lively column. After all, we’d doubled our ears from two to four overnight.
“I spent a couple of years editing their weekly missives, and oftentimes they had the best stuff in the paper. Even better was what I’d have to edit out for reasons of libel or hearsay. And even better than that was what this Thelma and Louise of Frenchtown would tell me when they stopped by to deliver their copy early in the week for publication on Wednesday.
“Judy was a true salt-of-the-down-to-Earth woman, a farmer’s wife and lifelong Rhode Islander who seemed to know everyone from Water Street to West Greenwich.
“Her sense of what “made news” — about what made living in East Greenwich interesting — was top-notch. She’d laugh her little laugh, lower her voice, and tell a little vignette that had you sucking in your breath or laughing ... sometimes both at the same time.”
Nancy Lemoi agreed.
“We had a ball,” she said about writing the columns. “We met when her cows got loose and wound up in our driveway. She called to say sorry but we were just amazed and amused by the whole thing. We became great friends.”
Judy was, said Lemoi, “funny and insightful, certainly one of the brightest people I know.”
In particular, Lemoi appreciated Judy’s ability to adapt.
“For somebody who wasn’t particularly fond of change, Judy realized change was coming,” Lemoi said, referring to the Frenchtown area, which went from a farming community to subdivision heaven during her lifetime. Her forays into town governance were her way of trying to direct that change.
“Judy was good people,” said Alan Clarke, another Pendulum alum. “No matter how sparse the times we got together over the past 30 years, it was always just like yesterday…. There's never enough time in life to do everything you would like to do, but the few random visits I've had lately with Judy and Rodney at the farm were always fun, entertaining, and most interesting. I will miss her and my heart goes out to Rodney and the kids.”“While her family and farm were the center of her life, it was plain to see that Judy Bailey could have done anything she wanted in the larger world,” said Thompson. “We were all fortunate that what she wanted to do was East Greenwich.”
A Memorial Service will be held Friday, Oct. 11, at 1 p.m. at the East Greenwich First Baptist Church. Calling hours are Thursday, Oct. 10, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Hill Funeral Home, 822 Main St.