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Flag Day attendees praise effort of late Spirit of Princeton co-founder

Philip Sean Curran
Firefighters watch on as old, discarded flags are burned during the Flag Day ceremonies. (Photo by Philip Sean Curran)

The patriotic music played on, the honor guard marched in formation and the crowd stood as one at Princeton’s annual Flag Day ceremony, June 14, just as Ray Wadsworth would have liked it.

Wadsworth, the former Princeton fire chief and borough councilman who died May 31 at 80, started this event in the late 1990s and later emceed it — always with his hand covering his heart when the national anthem played. His contributions to the community included co-founding the Spirit of Princeton, the nonprofit group that presents this and other patriotic-themed events each year.

“A heartfelt thanks to Ray for all he did to get this organization organized and to keep us going,” said Mark Freda, the president of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and vice chairman of the Spirit of Princeton, during the ceremony in the plaza of the Witherspoon Hall municipal building.

“Forward, march,” called out Princeton Police Sgt. Fred Williams in directing the color guard bringing in the American flag, a flag Wadsworth said he loved.

“When I think of Flag Day, I, of course, think about the flag and all it stands for,” Mayor Liz Limpet said at the event. “But I also think of Ray Wadsworth, as I am sure so many of you do, too … ”

Lempert said Flag Day in Princeton will “always be associated with Ray, who was a true Princeton patriot in all senses of the word.”

Lempert shared that after she was sworn in as mayor, Wadsworth approached her and said he would be there for her for whatever she needed.

“And that’s the way Ray was, he was like that for the entire Princeton community,” she said. “It was always about helping Princeton and working together for a better community.”

Later, Wadsworth’s grandson, Keith, a volunteer Princeton firefighter, filled in for his grandfather during the ceremony. Ray Wadsworth would retire old flags by burning them in a metal drum.

Afterward, Keith Wadsworth said it had been emotional coming to the ceremony.

“Every day is, but we’re doing it for him,” he said.

John Baker, who handles the sound system for Flag Day and other Spirit of Princeton events, said he had known Ray Wadsworth for three decades. He said Wadsworth was on his mind when he was traveling to the Flag Day ceremony.

“Ray was one of those people who didn’t want the limelight, stayed in the background (and) just did. He just did,” Baker said. “He made it all work.”

Members of the Princeton Police Department carry the flag during this year's Flag Day ceremony. (Photo by Philip Sean Curran)
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