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In celebration of Radkin's life
A longtime Mad River Valley and Mad River Glen icon Richard Burgess died on his property in Alburg in March 2012. Born Richard Burgess on April 5, 1945, in Greenfield, MA, he was the son of the late Arthur E. and Anne (Beagarie) Burgess. He graduated from Deerfield Academy in 1964, and later legally changed his name to just Radkin.
In his earlier years, Radkin lived and worked at the Mad River Glen ski area until 1978 at which time he moved to Shelburne, where he then worked at the Shelburne Shipyard.
He later worked for decades as the caretaker of the Jackson family property on Shelburne Point, beginning in the late 1970s. He also worked for NRG in Hinesburg, and later worked assembling parts for windmills for NRG from his home. He lived a minimalistic, vegetarian lifestyle which was consistent with his concern for the planet.
Radkin could frequently be seen riding his horse or mowing hay on the Point in the summer. He was well known in the area for his free spirit, his wit, his eccentricities and his passion for many causes. He had a musician’s soul and thoroughly enjoyed playing the piano and guitar.
He moved from Shelburne to Alburg, where he purchased property in 2003. Friends and family can offer memories and comments at the www.sympathytree.com/Radkin website.
Local friends have gathered their own memories and pictures of Radkin, which appear below.
‘That voice, I will never forget.’
Radkin, as he was known, was born Richard Burgess on April 5, 1945. He lived here in the Mad River Valley in the 1970s and early 1980s and then lived out on Shelburne Point and finally moved to an old neglected farm in Alburg. He would come here to visit old friends now and then, often arriving unannounced late in the evening. It wasn’t unusual not to see Radkin for many months, especially in the winter. So word of his death came as a shock. He died several months ago, pinned under farm machinery at his place in Alburg. His body was not discovered until a few weeks ago.
My earliest memory of Radkin was in the mid 1970s. He was living in a tiny lift shack at the top of the single chair and early one morning before the lifts started to operate, there he was, a lone skier gracefully coasting down on one leg. He picked me up hitchhiking in his little yellow MG (as I remember) and we struck up a friendship that endured over the years even when I moved away. I would answer the phone to hear lovely piano music playing on and on, then Radkin’s soft resonant voice, “Good morning, Debbie….” That voice, I will never forget.
I visited Radkin now and then out on Shelburne Point where he was the caretaker for many years. He’d constructed a whole enclave of little houses on wheels and interesting inventive items that he would rig up out of bits and pieces he collected. I was fortunate to visit a few times when his terminally ill father was there in the last weeks of his life. Radkin had driven out to Arizona to bring him back to care for him. His father joked about how long it was taking to die – but I had a feeling the reason his father lingered was to experience his son a little longer; his love, his humor, the lively piano playing and his tender care. Radkin had made the pine box that he later lay his father’s body in, drove him to Fletcher Allen to have him pronounced dead, and then on to the crematorium. If only someone could have cared the same way for Radkin in his dying hours.
It’s unbearably sad to realize how he died – the loneliness and how he might have suffered. I deeply miss his big heart, his humor, his exuberance and that lovely resonant voice. --Deb Van Dyke, Waitsfield
‘Alas, poor Radkin, we knew him well.’
Radkin, nee Richard Burgess, was a true one-of-one-and-only original. His talents and interests were so numerous, his mind so encyclopedic that it was hard to fathom him as one person. A few vignettes hardly do him justice, but here are a few anyway.
Pumping ferociously on his Raleigh three-speed bicycle set up to spin a generator that powered a ham radio, thrilled to be talking all the way to Chile, in his living quarters in the back of a 1946 Ford pickup parked in the woods off Route 17. The motion-operated radio was the genesis of his assumed name, a shortened form of “radio kinesis.”
Unloading and entertaining skiers at the top of the single chair as a tag team with Guy Livingston, greeting them with a few bars of “Cherry Piiiiinnnnk and Apple Blossom White” on a battered trumpet or whatever he could coax out of a harmonica or sax. Doing routine maintenance while the lift was in motion, at one time snagging his bright red ponytail in the sheaves of a lift tower while greasing a squeaky bearing.
Unsuccessfully asking a Nevada state motorcycle patrolman to suck the poison out of his leg after sustaining a rattlesnake bite while roadside camping on his own vintage BMW. The cop did direct him to a hospital.
Franticly crawling through the flames of a cooking fire and out the entry flap of his covered wagon parked on the trail above the Bobbin Mill beside the Lincoln Brook, eventually healing severe burns with ministrations of aloe and honey.
Taking a break from nonstop free-form head back caterwauling and chord progressions on the parlor piano to settle into a neck-mounted harmonica, shoulder-slung guitar, knee-mounted tambourine and foot-operated bass drum, to accompany a surprisingly melodious baritone voice.
Hurriedly mowing a softball-sized field on Shelburne Point with an ancient tractor clad only in a flesh-colored loincloth to the utter astonishment of the volunteer firemen as they drove up with their families for their annual picnic.
Attempting to gain admittance to the emergency room with only one name and no insurance having attempted a warning shot with a flintlock pistol in the air above his dog who was burrowing under the outhouse in order to consume the remains of the day. When the pistol failed to fire immediately, he lowered it to his side, whereupon it blew a lead ball into his lower leg which remained there until the end of his all-too-brief life.
Outfitting his “bungalow” on the Point with a whole network of emergency bells and ropes and pulleys and wood and wind and solar devices to make his father’s last days in the place as comfortable as possible.
So many late-night visits in the tiny yellow auto of indeterminate lineage, always refusing anything that was pleadingly offered for him to eat, launching into one diatribe that led seamlessly into another…chemtrails, Project for a New American Century, The Illuminati, Zionism, Alex Jones and Skull and Bones. Despite his Rabelaisian sense of humor, he had a special loathing of sexual abuse, particularly involving children. He nailed one topic of international renown early and often – the intentional perfidy of the USDA in prosecuting the Faillace sheep seizure. Then it was up from the couch in the morning, a few handfuls of unmilled grain for breakfast, and off he’d go.
Alas, poor Radkin, we knew him well and will forever savor his memory. Despite all of his eccentricities, he had a firm moral compass combined with an incisive understanding of national and international affairs, and an incredible memory to bolster every position, with unfailing wit and humor. Such a horrible loss. --Barry Simpson, Warren
“Wit, humor and ratty red ponytail.”
One lovely spring skiing day at Mad River in about 1978, I was nearing the top of the Single and I faintly began to hear what sounded like a bull moose calling. As I came over the top in view of the Stark’s Nest, I saw a man working the chair in a pair of boots up to his knees and a swimsuit playing the saxophone. In those days when everything flowed looser than now it wasn’t a totally unusual sight. Later on that summer, I met Radkin (Mr. Radio Kinetics) through mutual friends.
Radkin was as prolific with his talking as he was with his reading of contemporary topics so there was never a dull moment in his presence. Politics, ecology, old BMW motos, sailing, the “bad guys” poisoning us by chem trails, diet, etc.
Some of my more memorable moments with him include a summer he camped out at the Bobbin Mill and burned himself terribly on one arm and his chest with Coleman fuel. He refused to go to the doctor but rather just kept slathering himself with honey on a daily basis and darn if it didn’t get infected and heal well. That was my first lesson on Apiary Magic as he called it. As you can imagine the honey made him quite popular with the insects.
As I did multiple times over the years, he was the caretaker of Shelburne Point, I would camp out in his little “shanty town” he constructed on the point. He proudly rode around on his horse wearing nothing but a loin cloth, quietly enforcing his “NO VOYEURISM” law protecting (in his view) the co-eds sunbathing in the buff.
One morning as I was leaving for a construction job in Shelburne, he asked me if I’d help him hay that evening as there was rain coming and he was behind in the work. We took turns by moonlight alternatively driving the tractor and loading the bales by hand in the moonlight till the storm front came in and obscured the moon.
When I think of the ultimate left-wing conspiracy theorist, Radkin will always comes to mind as he had no contemporary equal. His wit, humor and ratty red ponytail will be sorely missed.
--Michael Levengood, Warren
“Radkin the independent thinker...and there was always more to figure out!”
Our paths crossed many times before we had our first in-depth conversation, which would have been about 10 years ago. I met him at von Trapp’s farm in Waitsfield. Martin and I were talking about how the Twin Towers in New York could not possibly have come down as per the official story. Radkin excitedly went to his vehicle and brought back a book dealing with that exact topic. There were not many people at that time who would question what was going on in that regard, but I could see that he had been doing much questioning and trying to figure out what made actual sense. I saw him many times afterward at various places, and he would always work the conversation towards some new source or idea and what did I think about it?
He would call me in the evening, sometimes several times in one night, as if he had thought of something else that couldn't wait. He would talk about his projects and how best to resolve mechanical problems. He knew a lot of people and had a good memory, it seemed to me. I enjoyed conversations with him because he was so honest, he spoke exactly how he felt. There is much in his earlier life that I am not aware of, and I like learning about his history. His most striking traits to me were his enthusiasm for learning the truth about the world we live in as opposed to what we are taught as history, his frankness and simple honesty, his genuine interest in the viewpoints of others, his concern for the health of the planet Earth, and his ongoing energy for all the diverse things that interested him and kept him growing. His non-typical dress, lifestyle and viewpoints would give many people the impression that he was too different to be taken seriously, but he actually understood the world in many ways better than most ever will. I miss him but am glad to have been able to know him. --John Gallagher, Moretown
‘A will to pursue, a heart to give’
Radkin was crew boss on the boat launch team at Shelburne Shipyard, it was 1978, and I was 17. I was on the painting crew; his spirit, lifestyle an eye opener, his gracious and open nature a comfort as I struck out on my own. We spent hours together, we had an immediate friendship, we had common ground in prep school background, technical interests and his constant ability to resist the norm was intoxicating for me. He was still living in the pump house, heading to the big open space on the point, house trailers being built, and readied for permanent (as Radkin would consider) dwelling. His Conestoga wagon was a bit cramped from his Waitsfield time, so multiple new trailers and the greenhouse were so grand. I ended up living in Art William’s 1937 Pierce Arrow travel trailer out on the Point for a summer – bailed hay and loaded trucks into the dawn hours with the two of us – he had those twin hay trucks (but only one ran). When I brought a date out, she would be curious about the strong, toned red-headed guy coated with peanut oil, bare chested, loincloth clad and at the ready to say something good about me. I still have a Radkin-made loincloth -- red w/eyelits from his sewing machine -- a treasured item with its own stories.
It was water and peanut butter, and myriad other good foods, for Radkin but not exotic, and always practical, “Why waste money on juice?” He would pop into Burlington during college. We would help each other wherever needed, haul an old farm implement to the Point at midnight.
We then ended up at NRG Systems – soldering together, building vanes, and then sharing a bunk for two weeks in an RV parked in the woods in Heartwellville as we built the ATV roads and installed the meteorological towers for Vermont’s first wind farm – Searsburg.
We would spar, we would talk politics and discuss how we could change the world – renewable energy was not enough. I would ask why the latest girlfriend was not the right one for him – he was too fussy, wanting to be with someone but not quite willing to compromise or was it something else – I just knew there were special women around him and he had so much to share.
He created his own electronics lab to build vanes; avoid the commute, be able to listen to music and assemble vanes in the wee hours of the morning – always so much to do, the next project, change the boat and ready it for a voyage (although many years later he admitted that he was anxious about sailing out into the ocean – one of the few times he was not sure about an adventure, a project). His first heart valve was his early moderator – he had to slow him down for at least a moment, many friends, a few very attentive in this time of healing – one of the few times he did allow others to take him in, take care of him.
So many thoughts as I write; his father passing, Fournier’s spring auctions, calls via radio, an invitation to travel the world with a smart, spirited gal, his ponytail caught in the drill press, the grinder disc making a deep cut.
His commitment to caring for people -- people older than he: two examples; Art Williams, John in Lincoln, people needing appreciation and respect – Radkin admired these men and women. He was of an older generation himself and was excited by the innovation of the previous 100 years. Even his name Radio Kinetics was part of this spirit. He never understood why people used drugs or drank – I would offer him a toke, he was curious, logical, never chastised, but never accepted it.
He was one of my better critics – very specific and most often informed in his views – if he felt anyone was selling out. He was often giving David Blittersdorf and I a hard time both at NRG and Earth Turbines, and wondering how North Wind Power Company had become New World Power – Wall Street, big money and more.
We stayed in touch, we drifted, we argued, we had long talks, I got mad at him for being paranoid, he defended his views – our most recent chat was early January – he was upbeat, wanted to know about our new life in Maine, we talked about big picture energy, small details of what he was up to, Alburg house, his connection and lack of it as he was up in the islands rather than Shelburne, the whole concept of owning land, property – as compared to being a caretaker (“Why do we need to own, possess?”) then a house project and Entropy – he was quite circumspect about death, about natural causes, systems failing he tried to prevent the aging of old farm gear, tools, machinery, but was more comfortable with his own short time. He had more people to educate, inform rather than worry about himself.
Radkin, you have been (and I assume will remain) a mentor, a strong friend to spar with and to learn from, willing to chase, examine and pursue ideas – this was our bond – this is what I will miss most. -- Lawrence Mott, Buels Gore and Maine
‘Saxophone in the early morning to greet skiers’
Radkin started working winters at Mad River Glen at the Single Chair top station, living in a "trailer" near the base of the mountain. In the winter of 1976-77, he lived at Stark’s Nest shelter at the top of the mountain. He was known for playing his saxophone in the early morning to greet the skiers.
In 1979, Radkin started working for North Wind Power as an electrical technician. He was a talented, knowledgeable and diligent electronic assembler who had a lifelong interest in renewable energy.
In the early 80s he lived near the Bobbin Mill factory along the Lincoln Brook in one of his Conestoga wagons, year round. One winter his wagon caught fire and he suffered serious burns. It was the middle of the night so after putting out the fire he drove himself to the Berlin hospital emergency ward.
After the initial treatment he decided he knew better and went back home where he treated himself with a mixture of honey and aloe. He healed quickly and completely.
He worked for NRG as an electrical assembler doing piece work from the mid- 80s up to the time of his death. Radkin was a trusted loyal and reliable employee.
During this time he lived on Shelburne Point as the caretaker, farmer and game warden. In about 2006, he bought a small farm with a rundown house in Alburg, VT.
He had open heart surgery to replace his bad heart valves in the mid-90s. After about 10 years he had to have it redone.
Radkin was passionate about understanding his world. This led him to believe strongly in manipulation of the environment by a cabal of government/military/corporate forces aimed at controlling the population. He advocated his case on whatever media or ear was available, easily becoming one of the most regular callers to Mark Johnson's radio show on WDEV. -- Jito Coleman, Warren