NORTHFIELD - Ralph "Rafael" Clifford, 86, a long time resident of Northfield best known as the original captain of the Quinnetucket I riverboat has died on July 11, 2013.
Ralph was born in New York City on February 15, 1927, the son of Lawrence and Ethel (Aiken) Clifford, however he never thought of himself as a New Yorker, but rather as a Vermonter owing to the fact his mother was a member of the politically prominent Aiken family. Ralph's life was more the stuff of a novel rather than an obituary. He had lived on the island of Samoa, where he taught English and later purchased a boat that he used to transport goods from island to island. He was well known repertory actor who performed extensively in Vermont and upstate New York, and was sought out by Norman Rockwell to pose for his October 30, 1948 Saturday Evening Post Cover entitled "Dewey versus Truman."
He was an ardent admirer of the communist Fidel Castro and waited days in front of Castro's New York hotel in 1959 hoping for an opportunity to speak with him. His constant presence was noticed by Castro's security guards who ended up questioning Ralph at length and strongly recommending that he discontinue his vigil. Ralph was undaunted and later named his newly born son Jedediah Fidel Castro Clifford. The New York Times published the birth announcement with full name included and also mentioned that the baby was the grand nephew on Senator Aiken of Vermont. The Times article met with a fair amount of displeasure from Ralph's uncle, Republican Senator George Aiken of Vermont. Ralph recalled a tense telephone conversation with Senator Aiken the gist of which cannot be printed in a family oriented newspaper.
Later he became captain of the Quinnetucket I a faithful replica of the African Queen from the movie Casablanca. His acting skills coupled with his experience as a captain in the South Seas made him quite a celebrity and some of his totally fictitious onboard narratives became the stuff of legend. He was fond of telling his passengers that the French King Rock was really the base of huge rock sculpture of Samoset, and that it had fallen into the Connecticut River from a former perch on the high banks near the river. He also shamelessly recounted that Kidd's Island was without doubt the place where the pirated Captain Kidd has buried his treasure. This resulted in Kidd's topography taking on a moon like appearance due to craters left by avid treasure hunters.
He leaves his daughter Maya Ondine Boffa and her husband Paul of Worcester, VT. his daughter Sarah Clifford of Washington, D.C. his son Jedediah Fidel Castro Clifford of Plainfield, VT, and his former wife, Dr. Maryann Zakutney of Pittsburgh, PA. He was predeceased by his former wife of many years Charlotte Potok. In addition he leaves many friends with happy memories and an enormous repertoire of wonderful stories.
An event celebrating his life will be held later this summer.
Donations in his memory may be made to Hospice of Franklin Co., 329 Conway St., Greenfield MA 01301.
Kidder Funeral Home, 1 Parker Ave., Northfield is in charge of arrangements.
To send condolences please visit www.kidderfuneralhome.com.