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Kent leader remembers Kissinger: 'Larger than life figure, but very close to the town'

US President George W. Bush (C) poses with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (L) and his wife Nancy upon arrival at Kissinger's home April 25, 2008 for a fundraiser in South Kent, Connecticut.
Mandel Ngan / AFP
US President George W. Bush (C) poses with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (L) and his wife Nancy upon arrival at Kissinger's home April 25, 2008 for a fundraiser in South Kent, Connecticut.

Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. secretary of state, died at his home in Kent, Connecticut, Wednesday. He was 100. The diplomat had close ties to the area.

Kent First Selectman Marty Lindenmayer remembered the former diplomat as a supporter of the local library and land trust. Kissinger was sometimes seen at town events or restaurants, he said.

“It's a blow because he has been, in a lot of ways, a larger than life figure, but one that was very close to the town and personable to the town,” Lindenmayer said. “Everybody's talking about it. Regardless of the political aspect of your feelings toward Secretary Kissinger, his presence here was generally a very positive one.”

With his brusque yet commanding public presence and behind-the-scenes maneuvers, Kissinger exerted extraordinary influence on global affairs under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

His power grew during the turmoil of Watergate, when the politically attuned diplomat took on a role akin to co-president to the discredited Nixon.

But after Kissinger left government, he was dogged by critics at home and abroad who argued that he should be called to account for his policies on Southeast Asia and support of repressive regimes in Latin America.

A Jew who fled Nazi Germany with his family in his teens and never lost his accent, Kissinger in his later years cultivated the reputation of respected elder statesman, giving speeches and offering advice to Republican and Democratic presidents alike. He also managed a lucrative global consulting business as he traveled the world.

But he called Kent home.

Lindenmayer recalled seeing Kissinger being interviewed on national television years ago, and realizing that he was speaking from his home in Kent.

Kissinger sometimes met with national and international figures on his property, which has its own helicopter pad.

Although age had slowed Kissinger down in recent years, Lindenmayer said the influential diplomat was a good friend of Kent.

Kissinger spoke at the dedication of the Admiral James and Sybil Stockdale Ice Arena at South Kent School. Admiral Stockdale was held captive in Vietnam while Kissinger was the national security adviser.

Lindenmayer also remembered Kissinger as a supporter of the community's fire department and recalled seeing him years ago, at a local celebration.

“He was attending the fireman's field days, and participating in bingo with all the kids,” Lindenmayer said. “He was right in the middle of a desk there, playing bingo, and the kids were running around playing bingo as well, and he was really enjoying being part of the younger crowd.”

Connecticut Public Radio's Patrick Skahill and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Matt Dwyer is an editor, reporter and midday host for Connecticut Public's news department. He produces local news during All Things Considered.

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