Nolan Lushington, the Jamaican-born former Greenwich Library director who steered the town institution into the digital age by launching one of Connecticut's first computerized book collections, died June 12 at his home in Hartford. He was 85.
Lushington became library director in 1966. During his 21-year tenure, he saw the East Putnam Avenue department store-turned-library building as much more than a collection of books. He viewed it as a vehicle through which citizens could change and challenge their lifestyle.
A new recipe. A listing of higher-education courses offered in a 20-mile radius. The borrowing record of the company in which you own stock.
These are the things he wanted users to seek out at Greenwich Library.
"His life was dedicated to public library work," said Louise Blalock, Lushington's wife and a former director at the New Canaan and Hartford public libraries. "He had wonderful energy and great vision, and never stopped working to help libraries fulfill their promise as democratic institutions."
Lushington was an ideas man. He established the first computerized library in Connecticut and helped build one of the first statewide library lending programs in the nation. Under his leadership, the library also became the first in the state to loan out films and projectors.
Lushington was invested in not only the books on the shelves, but the lighting, furniture and wall art. He oversaw three massive expansion projects as library director. He also lectured at Harvard and wrote books about library design.
Lushington's ideas, acquisitions librarian Marianne Weill recalled, were visionary, bold and smart. But for the library staff, they could also be a bit intimidating.
This was most apparent in the staff break lounge.
"People would try to not sit with Nolan during these breaks, because he had so many ideas for us to carry out that we couldn't keep up with him," said Weill, who was hired by Lushington 38 years ago.
She laughed at the memory.
"He was well-liked," she added. "But he really did have countless ideas he wanted to accomplish."
Lushington's personal interests ranged from architecture to motorcycles.
He spent summer days sailing Long Island Sound, carried a membership card to the Cos Cob Gun Club and rode a motorcycle to work.
"He wasn't exactly your typical librarian," said Katherine Edlin, who was assistant director under Lushington in the 1970s.
He was the kind of guy, Edlin recalled, who, when the library closed during a hurricane watch, would go to the shore and await the storm.
"I really thought he was very unusual, very imaginative," said Edlin. "I liked him very much."
British culture was another of Lushington's interests. Upon returning from a 1972 tour of English libraries, Lushington decided the Greenwich Library ought to have a tea room.
A few months later, he established the first library cafe in the nation.
A memorial service for Nolan Lushington will be held at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Church of Good Shepherd in Hartford.