CHATHAM — Richard Clifford, perhaps best known locally as the creator of the Countdown Cod sculpture that helps Chatham celebrate New Year’s Eve each year, has died at the age of 76.
A trained engineer and landscape architect, Mr. Clifford made a career working for the Connecticut state parks department before retiring to his Chatham vacation home with wife Judi in 1997. In retirement, he was a founding member of the Chatham-Harwich Newcomers Woodworkers’ group.
“He was a perfectionist in his projects. He was at the same time always supportive of others with varying abilities,” fellow club member Steve Patzman said. “He enjoyed working and leading projects and taking on new challenges.” His creations included a nautical pulpit used for church services on the beach, an ornate bookcase in the Eldredge Public Library, and the wooden enclosure for the town’s 300th anniversary time capsule, which is on display at the town offices.
“It’s a beautiful piece of cabinetry,” Judi Clifford said. As a woodworker, her husband was as enthusiastic as he was exacting. “He had very high standards, and he lived every day by those high standards,” she said.
In 2008, Mr. Clifford created Countdown Cod, a remarkably engineered sculpture that is internally illuminated.
“Rich was a skilled craftsman, and his creation of the Countdown Cod was a perfect symbol for First Night Chatham’s midnight fireworks celebration at Oyster Pond,” First Night spokesman John Reed said. “Rich and Judi were also FNC committee members for several years,” he said.
“He so enjoyed just being in his workshop creating,” Mrs. Clifford said. “He just took so much pride in helping people to work through their woodworking problems.” While he was generous with his knowledge and talents, Mr. Clifford never sought the spotlight.
“He was never out front, and never asked to be noted for anything,” she said.
Patzman said Mr. Clifford built floats and puppets for First Night, as well as tutoring tables for the Chatham Elementary School. With his fellow volunteers, Clifford created furnishings for the Marconi museum, the Orpheum Theater and the Harwich Community Center, among others.
“He was a great woodworker, but more importantly a great friend,” Patzman said.