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Baba Ram Dass: The Westport Connection

Westport’s history is filled with writers who — while not as closely associated with our town as, say, Peter De Vries or Max Shulman — spent time here at the heights of their careers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald. J.D. Salinger. Shirley Jackson.

Add Baba Ram Dass to the list.

His “Be Here Now” — described by the New York Times as “an exuberant exponent of finding salvation through helping others” — sold 2 million copies, and has had more then 3 dozen printings.

But he’s perhaps better known for his advocacy — with fellow Harvard professor Timothy Leary — of LSD, and the spiritual inspiration he found in India.

Ram Dass — born Richard Alpert — returned from India as a “bushy-bearded, barefoot, white-robed guru,” the Times says. He became “a peripatetic lecturer on New age possibilities and a popular author of more than a dozen inspirational books.”

Baba Ram Dass

He also started a foundation to combat blindness in India and Nepal, supported reforestation in Latin America, and developed health education programs for American Indians, the Times reports.

According to alert “06880” reader — and endless fount of historical knowledge — Mary Gai, Ram Dass came to Westport around 1979.

He was here, Mary says, thanks to the kindness of a follower. Independently wealthy, the woman lived in a compound — with a big van, tents and campfires — on the Saugatuck River.

I’m not sure how long he stayed in the woods here. But last year Ram Dass began an essay on aging this way: “One evening I was taking a train back from Westport to New York city….”

Baba Ram Dass died on Sunday, in Hawaii. He was 88.

If you have any memories of his time in Westport — or simply how he influenced you — click “Comments” below.

(Click here for the full New York Times obituary of Baba Ram Dass.)

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