Take Neal Raymond off Shelter Island and put him on a cruise to St. Kitts. You would not believe how many people come up asking for his autograph because they think he’s Larry David.
“You’ve got to laugh. We had no idea” there was a resemblance, said his wife Cathy.
“Yeah, I was telling them sure, I’ll give you my autograph,” Neal said. “But I’m not who you think I am. They didn’t believe me.”
Here on the Island, Neal is Neal, a veteran member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Board of Assessment Review, a former town councilman and one-time candidate for town justice, not to mention a key player in the local Conservative party — as is Cathy, who was an enthusiastic participant when Neal sat down at the kitchen table for an interview last week.
They’ve taken a cruise every January for three years now — a reminder of their 1983 wedding, which took place on a trip to Barbados. They flew there then, and until three years ago, Cathy resisted the more relaxed cruise option. A Bronx native who worked for years as a cook overseeing the kitchen and the inmate staff at the county jail in Riverhead — “I loved it. I thought I was in the Bronx,” she said of the tough crowd — she didn’t like the idea of heading out of sight of land.
Her daughter Samantha, a captain on North Ferry whose own daughter Amanda is a ramp hand, helped change her mind.
“She’s the one who said you got to get off the Rock,” Cathy said.
Cathy was a dispatcher for the county DPW in Yaphank and Neal was a deputy county sheriff based in Riverhead when they met. He would gas up in Yaphank. They’d chat. One day she saw him coming out of a store in Riverhead and thought he needed a ride.
“We got to talking and then we went out,” Cathy said. They married in 1983, a second marriage for each.
They lived in Speonk-Remsenburg and both loved driving to Shelter Island every spring to spend a day or two taking pictures of the returning ospreys. Neal has been into cameras, photography as well as radios — he’s a licensed ham operator — ever since he was a kid growing up in East Moriches, where he was born in 1940. His father worked at Chapman’s Lumberyard. His mother was the first employee of the North Fork Bank.
He was also into hunting as a kid. One of his father’s hunting pals was Charles Dominy, the county sheriff, who was a Shelter Islander. Through hunting trips, Neal has been well aware of the Island since childhood.
After high school, he joined the Air Force, just like his older brother, a retired military man who now lives in Florida. Having worked at a local electronics shop, where TV repairman Sonny Edwards was a customer — Sonny was another Shelter Islander from the old days — Neal worked on electrical systems “all over,” he said, from Goose Bay to Tucson to Dover.
Married right out of the service, he went to work for Grumman Aerospace in Calverton and lived in East Quogue, where he and his wife raised three kids. The marriage lasted nine years.
When Grumman began laying people off in the early 1970s, Neal took the Civil Service test to become a deputy sheriff. Initially he was hired as a corrections officer at the county jail in Riverhead.
“It was good. I got along with everybody,” he said. “You want to know a great story? I had an inmate try to hit me in the head
with a mop ringer and another inmate, who is still in prison for murdering a girl in Smithtown, he grabbed the guy’s wrist and actually saved me from getting hit.”
The man who protected him, Neal explained, was a brilliant guy who “got screwed up” in Vietnam.
He became a deputy sheriff about 1973, transporting prisoners to state facilities. Eventually he was promoted to investigator and conducted background checks on prospective county employees. After that, he investigated pistol permit applicants. At the time of his retirement in 2002, he was working on the warrant squad, serving subpoenas and making arrests.
By then, he and Cathy had been married almost two decades. They moved to the Island full-time in 1993, a time when Cathy was mourning the deaths of her mother and brother in the same month and suffering from the aftereffects of an accident at work that had forced her to retire.
The couple had a log home upstate but “there was so much snow on the front porch,” Cathy said, she could not manage the place with her injuries.
“I was out of it,” Cathy said. “So he said, ‘Let’s go out to Louis Beach.’ We stayed at the motel, we rented bikes, and we were riding around, down by Bay Shore Road, and he said, ‘How would you like to live here?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘I’d love to but we can’t do it. We got a home upstate’ and he was working out of the warrant squad” in Hauppauge “and that would be 100 miles a day” for his commute.
Neal put in for a transfer to Riverhead. They sold the upstate place and their house in Remsenburg-Speonk. They took possession of a high ranch in Hilo; they later moved to a new place on Terry Drive.
They threw themselves into life here. Kathy was honored a few years ago for all the cooking she did for the Silver Circle seniors program. She still makes an appearance as the Easter bunny every year at the Silver Circle Easter party.
Neal still coordinates radio communications for the 10K and the Chamber of Commerce’s fireworks show and he works with Police Chief Jim Read as a member of the town’s emergency preparedness team, providing backup radio communications in case of hurricanes. It was Neal who helped the town obtain a grant from the Sheriff’s Office to buy license plate scanners for the town’s patrol cars.
Cathy ran for the School Board and won. Neal answered ads in the Reporter seeking candidates to serve on the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Board of Assessment Review.
“They asked me why I would be good,” he remembered, “and I said, ‘Because I don’t really know anybody here.’ So they said, ‘OK, you’re on.’”
He had to quit when he served on the Town Board for two years, winning an election in November 2005 to finish out the remaining two years of the late Jim Messer’s term. “I thought it would be interesting and I could bring some ideas,” Neal said.
As for deciding not to run again, he hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said. “It was just …”
“Neal!” Cathy interrupted. “You don’t want to be enemies! I mean they catch you at the post office, they catch you here and there, and they want to know. can you do this, can you do that.”
Neal didn’t disagree.