Lydia Ogilby, Belmont’s Grande Dame, Dead at 98

Photo: An image of Ogilby at Richardson Farm

The old John Bright house (c. 1790), on Washington Street at the confluence of Grove, Blanchard, and Bright is quiet as the grande dame of Belmont, Lydia Richardson (Phippen) Ogilby, died on Friday, Nov. 1 in the home she called home for more most of her life.

Ogilby was 98.

“I really liked and admired Lydia,” said Pricilla Hughes of the Belmont Historical Society which Ogilby was long associated with.

“She was everything I hope to be if I live that long. She was smart, involved, and had strong opinions that she was not afraid the express. She truly was a grande dame,” said Hughes.

Ogilby with her grandson, Henry, on Memorial Day, 2019

The daughter of Clement Lowell Phippen (1885-1944) and Grace Richardson (1882-1969), Lydia was born on Aug. 7, 1921. She had two older brothers, Hardy who died in 2004 and Clement who died in 1939.

Her grandfather, Jay Richardson, was a market gardener with a pair of large greenhouses – that included a boiler house to heat them – who sold his produce at Quincy Market, using a large horse-drawn cart to make the trip from Belmont to Boston.

“My grandfather grew the best beets around,” said Ogilby in a 2012 interview by Belmont resident Jane Sherwin in Edible Boston.

After Richardson was badly injured after a cart accident in 1921, Grace Phippen moved her family including her newborn back to Belmont from Brooklyn in order to help run the farm, which she would inherit two years later. The land would continue to be farmed, after World War II with the help of a pair of tenant farmers, first the Sergi and later the Chase families.

Ogilby’s greatest legacy is the Richardson Farm the 10 acres of land between Bright and Blanchard owned by the family since 1634 when Charles I gave Abraham Hill a charter for a swath of land stretching from Charlestown to Belmont Hill.

By the 1990s, Ogilby was receiving a steady stream of offers for the land from various developers.

“It was suggested we turn the area into a train station and rent out parking spaces,” Ogilby told Sherrington. After consulting with her family, the Ogilbys decided to place the land under an Agricultural Preservation Restriction held by the Belmont Land Trust.

Ogilby told Sherrington it was a very hard decision for her family to give up the development rights of so valuable a property, but she believed that love of the land made it possible.

“It’s part of my children’s life. They’ve all lived in cities, every one of them has, but I think loving the land is in their DNA,” said Ogilby in Edible Boston.

Ogilby was also a constant serving in town governance, involved in a number of committees and Town Meeting:

  • . Town Meeting Member for 53 years spanning from 1963 to 2019 (with a couple of interruptions)
  • Capital Budget Committee 1970-1996
  • Solid Waste Disposal Study Committee and Solid Waste Disposal Advisory Committee 1974 – 1985
  • Historic District Commission 1978 – 2012 when she became an Emeritus Member to 2019
  • Library Site Planning Committee 2005
  • 125th Jubilee Committee  1983-1984
  • Republican Town Committee 1988

Her involvement in town matters did not diminish with age (nor did it stop her from driving to Star Market on Trapelo Road into her 90s). At 94, Ogilby led the opposition by longtime residents on plans to remove parking and a cut-through street in front of the former Belmont Savings Bank resulting in a Special Town Meeting after the Board of Selectmen eventually agreed with Ogilby’s position.

Ogilby would be an important voice at Town Meeting whether it was supporting an article or finding a way to relieve the tension at late night debates. Town Clerk Ellen Cushman recalled a particular night when voices were being raised over a particular measure, Ogilby got up to speak.

“Good news! My goat gave birth to four kids,” Ogilby proudly announced, reducing Town Meeting to giddy laughter, cooling the gathering’s temperature considerably.

Ogilby was a 1938 graduate of the Buckingham, Brown and Nichols School in Cambridge and received her Masters from Boston University’s School of Social Work. Ogilby worked as a clinical social worker and owned a nursery school in East Boston.

In 1949, Ogilby married John David Ogilby, a Harvard graduate who earned the Silver Star and Purple Heart as a naval officer at the Battle of Anzio in 1944. A sales manager for Philip Hano, Ogilby died in 1966 in Randolph, NH, where the Ogilby family has a summer home.

Ogilby is survived by her children; Henry, John David Jr., Clement and Lydia; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be announced in the future.

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  1. Sally Alcorn says

    I remember her from my days of quasi activism in the Town of Belmont. Quite an amazingly involve woman. Sally Remick Alcorn

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