Raymond A. Gallagher, 89, a retired life insurance broker and Alexandria historian who was a well-known figure at Mount Vernon, where he liked to greet and entertain visitors to George Washington's estate, died April 13 at the Hospice of Northern Virginia. He had congestive heart failure.
Mr. Gallagher was not a Mount Vernon employee or even an official volunteer, just a frequent visitor who had a proprietary love of the place. He was such a public relations asset that no one bothered to look at his annual pass.
He often showed up on nice days, wearing his American Legion hat and playing his kazoo when the mood felt right. He tailored the music to the occasion, rendering patriotic songs as employees lowered the flag in the evening and playing "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You" if he met a visitor from the Lone Star State. He also had an extensive repertory of college fight songs.
The Washington Post wrote about him in a front-page story, and he was featured on "Good Morning America." He kept two cartons of letters from grateful Mount Vernon visitors.
His interest in the historic property stemmed from a visit there one Sunday afternoon in 1920. He treasured the fading photo his father took that day of his mother, brother and himself -- a young boy in knickers, stockings and silk bow tie.
Later, as a regular at Mount Vernon, Mr. Gallagher would approach visiting families, tell them a little of his background and offer to take a picture using their cameras. He knew all the best backdrops.
"He saw it as a service," said Harriet Verzagt, who works at Mount Vernon's main gate. "He thought the whole family should be in the picture."
Raymond Alexander Gallagher was born in Paterson, N.J., and had lived in Alexandria since childhood. He was a graduate of Alexandria High School and a 1939 graduate of Columbus University's law school, which later became part of Catholic University. He went to law school at night and did clerical work by day for the Rural Electrification Administration.
During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces in Europe.
Based out of his home, he covered the Northern Virginia area for a variety of life insurance companies, including Atlantic, Southwestern and Williamsburg.
He retired in 1976 and started devoting his time to writing about local history, including a weekly column for the Alexandria Gazette called "Ray Remembers."
A zealous documenter of life in Alexandria, he planted time capsules throughout the city. He stuffed newspaper clippings, his business cards and other articles of interest into plastic bags and buried them, with consent, at construction sites and homes. He said he placed at least 200 such capsules.
"One hundred years from now, when someone finds them, they're going to have a great ready-made story," he told The Post.
The staff also let him leave numerous time capsules on Mount Vernon's grounds.
Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Mary Barelli Gallagher of Alexandria; and two sons, Christopher Gallagher of Alexandria and Gregory Gallagher of Las Vegas.