By Gretchen Webster
WESTPORT — If you’d like to know how a typical 96-year-old spends his time, don’t ask Richard Rauh, PhD.
The longtime Westport resident is a painter, a poet, a published author, teaches classes at the New York Botanical Garden and the Westport Center for Senior Activities, and earned both doctoral and master’s degrees in plant science after retirement. And he exercises at the Westport YMCA almost every day.
“I don’t play golf, I haven’t played bridge in years,” he recently recalled of the time when he considered his next steps after retirement. Instead of traditional retirement pursuits, he ended up spending time in his garden, where he was inspired to become a botanical painter.
Rauh’s paintings, meticulously drawn, then painted, from the photos he takes of various plants, are beautiful representations of the natural beauty found all around him in Connecticut.
“The garden gave me a whole new life,” he said.
A town resident for more than 60 years, Rauh describes his career before retirement as “working in special effects for motion pictures.” He was also an art director for television, mostly for commercials.
Brooklyn born, he was a graduate of the High School of Music and Art in New York City (now called LaGuardia High School), and moved in 1956 to Westport, his late wife Harriet’s home. Westport was full of artists then, he added, including his wife’s father, Philip Lyford, a commercial artist.
Although drawing was a hobby – “I’ve always drawn since I could hold a pencil,” he said – Rauh became specifically interested in botanical drawing when his wife started taking flower-arranging classes at the New York Botanical Gardens, and he took gardening classes there. Wanting to learn more about the plants he loved to draw, he began his graduate studies in plant sciences, earning his master’s degree at the age of 72, and his doctorate four years later.
“It was a challenge,” he remembered, “especially the lab courses. All the younger people were zipping through and I was breaking things,” he joked. “They finished their labs in three hours and I was there all week.”
He has been teaching at the Botanical Gardens for 30 years, as well as the senior centers in Weston, Fairfield and Westport, where he teaches now.
“He gets rave reviews from all his students, said Holly Betts, program manager at the Westport center. “His classes just love him. He’s a fabulous teacher.”
Rauh has been asked to speak at the next conference of the American Society of Botanical Artists.
He is also the author of the book, “The Science Behind Flowers,” and has published several chap books of his poems, with each poem illustrated with one of his botanical paintings.
Rauh is the father of two sons and a daughter, and now has five grandsons and one great-grandchild.
He has always enjoyed being active, he said, but now finds that his art and teaching others is a relief from observing current politics in this country, which he finds depressing.
“The fact that this country is so divided” is what bothers him the most, he said. “I can barely face it … The only time I’m free of it is when I’m painting or teaching.”
In addition to all the other pursuits he undertakes, Rauh also exercises almost every day, which he believes gives him the energy to follow all his various passions. “It keeps me moving,” he said.
While his life after retirement has been rewarding, he never expected to follow the path he has taken.
“It was serendipity,” Rauh said. “Everything fell into place.”