Chris Lloyd left behind a legacy of environmentalism, advocacy, and friendship
By Tom Ayres, Senior Staff Writer
Bill Dagger was walking along the shores of Silver Lake in Barnard one summer day 36 years ago, pushing a double stroller carrying his infant twins, Ali and Jackie. Suddenly what seemed to be a mirror image appeared on the path before Dagger: another father, also pushing a twin stroller toting two infants, Sophia and Daniel, headed straight for him.
The pair of twin-bearing fathers met mid-path and introduced themselves, with Dagger turning around and joining Christopher “Chris” Lloyd for a stroll around the lake with their tiny charges rolling along. A lively conversation ensued, leading to a deep friendship between Dagger and Lloyd that was to last for nearly four decades, until Lloyd passed away from the effects of a rare blood disorder on Feb. 18 at his home in Woodstock.
The friendship between Dagger, his wife Bobbi, and Lloyd and his wife, Vassie Sinopoulus, exemplified the deeply personal, engaged, and vibrant connections that Chris Lloyd, 77, built with family, friends, neighbors, and fellow community servants over the course of nearly 50 years living and working in Woodstock. Lloyd’s family members, friends, and admirers paused last weekend to share recollections of their beloved Chris, who will also be remembered at a memorial service in May — the season of renewal and rebirth, and Lloyd’s favorite time of the year.
“Chris and I were both pushing those double strollers and one of us had to get off the sidewalk to let the other pass. We decided to walk together and continue talking, because it was obvious we had something in common,” Bill Dagger reminisced last Sunday. “There was something about Chris where he would always find the most interesting part of you and pull it out and make a conversation about it,” Dagger continued. “Thinking about it, we had politics in common. He was definitely liberal — and we are, too. The thing with Chris is that he was more enlightened than just being blindly liberal. He knew what the reasons behind things were and could explain it very well.”
Advocacy journalism, pacifism, environmentalism, conservation, and a passion for human rights, multiculturalism, and gender equity were central to Chris Lloyd’s being — “genetic, part of his DNA,” as his longtime friend Dagger put it. Lloyd’s grandfather was William Bross Lloyd Sr., an American attorney, political activist, and the oldest son of the muckraking progressive journalist Henry Demarest Lloyd and Jessie Bross, the daughter of Chicago Tribune founder William Bross, through whom Lloyd Sr. ultimately inherited a valuable one-quarter share of the newspaper, then considered one of the country’s journalistic giants.
Combining the zeal of an investigative journalist with a passion for philanthropy and social action, Lloyd Sr. is known to political historians as a founding member and donor to the fledgling Communist Party of America in 1919. In keeping with family tradition, Lloyd Sr.’s wife Lola Maverick Lloyd was also a fiery organizer, pacifist, and early feminist who founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom at the start of World War I. The activist organization continues its work to this day, with several chapters here in Vermont.
Such are the deep roots of Chris Lloyd’s lifelong commitment to social justice, environmental writing, multiculturalism, gender equity, and community engagement. His father, William Bross Lloyd Jr., was a prominent pacifist during World II and Chris’s older sister, Robin, 84, is a celebrated filmmaker, journalist, and philanthropist who has been a bulwark of the progressive movement in Burlington, Vt., for decades. She spoke about her late brother last weekend as well.
“Our father was the editor of a small newsletter called Toward Freedom and I took it over when he retired in 1986. We keep following in the tradition of our ancestors, as they say,” Robin said, chuckling. “I think it has been supportive to Chris and to me to look back at these people who were successful in their areas of work and to try to continue that work in our family. In my case, Chris was a beloved younger brother, seven years younger than me, just this beautiful, curly-headed child with a wonderful sense of humor who enjoyed life.”
Chris Lloyd’s greatest contributions to Woodstock and the greater Upper Valley community resided in his longtime engagement with the former Countryman Press publishing company in Taftsville, the Billings Park Commission, the Norman Williams Public Library, and the North Chapel Unitarian Universalist Society, where he lent his resounding baritone and love of music to the choir for more than three decades.
Lloyd joined the staff of the Countryman Press in the mid-1970s, working as a copy editor with company founders Peter and Jane Jennison, with whom he served for many years until the company’s sale to W.W. Norton in the mid-1990s. The Countryman team also included several other Woodstock luminaries, including Lou Kannenstine and Carl Taylor, and the publishing company specialized in mysteries, poetry, and, particularly to Lloyd’s liking, books about nature and hiking, including field and trail guides to Vermont and New Hampshire. Sinopoulus spoke lovingly of those times at the Countryman Press and lauded her late husband’s devotion to the preservation of Billings Park and the land and trails on Mount Peg, which wrapped around their hillside home on the Highland Avenue Extension.
“[Now Vermont State Sen. Alison Clarkson] and Chris and John Wiegand worked on the commission and raised about $200,000 to buy the piece of land that Fred Merrill owned that was dividing Mt. Peg from the town. It was abutting our property up there on Highland Avenue,” Sinopoulus said, reveling in her husband’s accomplishments with the Billings Park Commission. “We’d go and clean the trails, pick blueberries, forage for morel mushrooms, and enjoy walking and hiking,” Sinopoulus said, speaking of passions she and Lloyd instilled in their children, Sophia, now known as “So;” Dan; and Vassie’s son and Chris’s stepson, Cherif.
Clarkson, speaking with great affection for her longtime friend and colleague on Sunday night, lauded Chris’s work on the Billings tract two decades ago. “The enduring legacy of his time on the Billings Park Commission was convincing Laurance Rockefeller to give us the top of Mt. Peg and securing a public park out of Mt. Peg, of which — before 2000 — only a third was owned by the town. That was a big piece of work that Chris was very proud of and it’s such an ongoing gift to the people of our area. Chris also worked with the Vermont Land Trust and the Woodstock Foundation to secure the Merrill property as well. He just loved Mt. Peg, not just because he could hunt for morels on it, but also because it’s this lovely wilderness and a much-appreciated park in the heart of our very busy downtown.”
Lloyd’s contributions to the Norman Williams Library were also significant. Over many years, he served in multiple roles on its Board of Trustees, acting as president, vice president, and as an active member of finance and fundraising committees. Chief among his accomplishments was providing oversight to a major renovation and expansion of the library, including a significant upgrade of its information systems in the early 2000s. “I was the treasurer for the library at the time,” recalled Joe Boyd, a retired Woodstock banker and loan officer who presently serves as the president of the Norman Williams board. “That was a huge project — multiple millions of dollars — and Chris was central to its oversight. He was very generous with his time and money and just helped to get a lot of it done.”
Known to family and friends as a voracious reader, Lloyd could be found nestled on a couch or sitting at the kitchen counter each day, savoring his morning coffee while pouring over The New York Times. Often he’d simultaneously engage in another of his favorite pastimes: singing in a honeyed voice, belting out a witty ditty of his own creation, or humming contentedly. Music, too, was central to Lloyd’s life. “I’ve been at North Chapel for 25 years,” the Unitarian Universalist Society’s music and choir director, Diane Mellinger, said last weekend. “Chris was in the choir for that whole time and longer. He had a lovely voice, he could read music, and he was always asking questions about the music we were rehearsing each week.”
Chris Lloyd had a keen interest in diverse world cultures, resulting from his youth, part of which was spent living with family in Tunisia and Switzerland. He had a particular affinity for international music and songs performed in foreign languages. “Chris really enjoyed the South African work songs and a cappella anthems in our repertoire. He liked gospel songs and spirituals, too, and he especially liked classical music and singing in French. No matter what we did, he was totally game,” Mellinger recalled. “He was a delightful guy who really enjoyed singing.”
The Daggers were not the only family in Woodstock who first connected with Chris and Vassie because of the endearing presence of the couple and their children along Highland Avenue, on the trails on Mt. Peg, and at gatherings throughout the community. Former longtime Woodstock Union High School foreign language teacher Keri Bristow, who is now the chair of the Windsor Central Supervisory Union School Board, recalled how she and her husband, Preston, themselves raising a young family on Highland Road, were charmed by the Lloyd-Sinopoulus tribe.
“Before we even knew you all, we watched you walk up and down Highland Avenue with the twins,” Bristow wrote in a remembrance of Chris posted on the website of the Cabot Funeral Home. “Cherif was my student in French class and [granddaughter] Maya my student in Spanish class. So and Elissa became besties and Dan and Calvin enjoyed video gaming. Chris was the constant on our road, walking up and down, sometimes with Vassie and with Dan. Ever pleasant, ever kind. Chris will be missed by all who knew him,” Keri Bristow shared.
In a subsequent conversation, Bristow offered more thoughts about Lloyd. “He was a kind, gentle soul who always took the time to stop and talk and share a good word,” Chris and Vassie’s longtime neighbor commented. “He was very interested in the environment and in making the world a better place. He was a friend to everyone he ever met.”
Bristow’s daughter, now Elissa Koop, spoke reverently of her “bestie’s” father and the impact he had on her growing up. “Chris was a very curious observer — he was genuinely interested in people,” Koop recollected. “I think that, as a kid, what differentiated him from other adults in my life is that he was very curious about our experience and our thoughts on things. I think a lot of adults don’t have a lot of curiosity about kids. They just don’t have a lot of time for kids in terms of engaging with them intellectually, but Chris really wanted to understand what we thought about things. He loved learning, he loved talking, and he loved getting people’s perspective on the topic at hand.”
Koop also touched on how lightly Chris Lloyd stepped through the world, always concerned about the welfare of others. “One of the things that was unique about Chris was his love of whimsy. He was just delighted by the world,” Koop said. “He was just in love with life and beauty and he just wasn’t so concerned about the practical things in the world. It was important to him that people have equity and equality. He and Vassie had a unique relationship. They really trusted each other. They had a totally equal partnership – and I look at their relationship as a real model for life. It was just so beautiful.”
It falls to Koop’s lifelong best friend, So Sinopoulus-Lloyd, to have the last word on her father. In an email Monday afternoon, they wrote, “‘Praise Him.’ These are the final lines to my Dad’s favorite Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, ‘Pied Beauty,’ an ode to the sensual beauty, the ‘dappled things of the world.’ When my Dad and I would read this poem to each other — which we did several times in these last few weeks — his voice would crack at the last line.
“Dad was agnostic,” Sinopoulus-Lloyd continued, “but he was nevertheless a deeply pious man. He was awed by the human capacity for love, devotion, and wonder — a wonder that he eagerly shared,” they offered, later writing, “I think from my Dad I really received my tender heart and concern for social justice, my literary mind, and of course, my love for wandering the land, treading on the ground with my feet. Dad always encouraged my penchant for words and for the literary, as well as for understanding systems on large, holistic scales.
“He really believed so strongly in both the human heart, and the human mind. On other topics, my words run out these days,” Sinopoulus-Lloyd concluded. “But I can’t stop talking about my Dad. Praise him. It is my honor to have had him as my father.”