LAKE PLACID — Laura Viscome, who passed away Friday, August 13 at the age of 83, was at the center of Lake Placid always, a fixture in the community who will be missed.
She was a member of the Red Hat Society, according to her daughter Janet Viscome, of Santa Monica, CA, but she wore many other hats in the village. She was a well-loved ski instructor, worked with the US Bobsled Federation, the Olympic Regional Development Authority the Adirondack Park Agency, and was an active member of the Craig Wood Golf Team, the Garden Club of Lake Placid and the Catholic Daughters.
Even those who didn’t know her personally may remember Laura from her byline. As a community-minded reporter and columnist for the Lake Placid News for more than 40 years she was more in tune with the pulse of Lake Placid than most. “She was the prototypical reporter,” said Ed Hale, of Keene, a former owner and editor of the Lake Placid News. “She knew absolutely everything that was going on in the town, and if she didn’t know, she would find out very quickly.”
Laura’s column “Odds and Ends,” gave her the chance to express her passion for writing and deep love of the community, according to her daughter Laura Jean Clark.
“Mom always had somewhere to go,” she said. “Either out to the bob-run to snap a picture, or out to cover a town board meeting for the newspaper — getting her column done was always a priority, and she loved it.”
Born in the Bronx, Laura was a resident of Scarsdale for most of her young life, attending Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Scarsdale and Good Counsel Academy in White Planes. For many years she served as a station agent for the New York Central Railroad’s Harlem-Hudson division.
“She started that job when she was just 17 years old,” her daughter Janet Viscome told the News Tuesday. “She was doing a job that was generally considered a man’s job; one of the very few women on the railroad, filing in while men were at war.”
Janet said her mother — an avid skier — took many trips to Lake Placid, staying at the Homestead (now the High Peaks Resort) and “fell in love with the village, at an early age.”
In 1953, she married John Viscome of White Plains and according to Laura’s sister Janet Daly they decided to move to Lake Placid almost immediately after their wedding.
“John was a ski jumper and Laura was a downhill skier,” Daly said. “They had visited so many times that they just decided they wanted to spend their married life in Lake Placid. ... Not everyone in the world can move and live in the place that’s exactly where they want to be, but that’s what John and Laura did, and they deserve a lot of credit for that. I don’t think there was a day that went by that she didn’t wake up, look out her window and love what she saw.”
Daly said her sister and brother-in-law quickly got involved with the village: “They just seemed to thrive there.” Open arriving John Viscome opened a Shell gas station across from the Olympic Arena, where a two story brick building now stands. Long-time friend and former town supervisor of the Town of North Elba, Shirley Seney, said Laura kept the books at her husband’s business.
“I was working at the bank at that time,” Seney said. “She would come in every week and make a bank deposit and we would chat. We ended up becoming quite friendly and got married around the same time, had our children at the same time and became wonderful friends.”
The two remained friends while Laura worked full-time at the News as a reporter and columnist, and Seney sat on the school board, village and town boards and eventually became mayor.
“We were always very supportive of each other,” Seney said. “I supported what she was doing and she supported what I was doing, but if one of us didn’t like what the other was doing, we would really go at it.”
Seney said Laura always offered her thoughts and suggestions and was incredibly encouraging.
“She just had a ways of urging me to do right for the community,” Seney said. “Then I became supervisor, and she would stop in and we’d sit and chat; she would tell me about the things she was working for the Lake Placid News ... it was just a great camaraderie we had. She would always come in and try to pick my brain, and I would tell her ‘you know I can’t tell you that’ and she would just grin.”
With four young children and a full-time job as a reporter and columnist for the paper, former Lake Placid News editor Lisa Forrest — who was a reporter for the News when “Odds and Ends” first began — said there were often times when Laura was hard to keep up with.
“She’d have about a zillion things going on,” Forrest said. “She was always very curious, questioning everything — that was one quality that really stood out in her.”
When the column first began in the early 1970s, the newspaper was printed using typesetting, according to Forrest, which meant stories couldn’t be e-mailed to the editor as they often are today.
“Laura would be racing around town, and then she would call in and say she had left copy up at the Marshal Drug Store,” Forrest said. “Then I would go and pick it up and she’d be off somewhere else. There never was a dull moment.”
But above all came her family, even if that meant they were in the newsroom.
“We were at the funeral joking around about all the times we’d be in the newsroom helping to stuff the papers (with inserts),” Janet Viscome said. “We were always around annoying the writers or just hanging out.”
Along with raising a family Laura was an active member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and taught at Mt. Whitney for many years. From 1959 until 1972, she ran the Lake Placid Youth Commission’s alpine skiing program offered without charge to children after school at Scotts Cobble; a small ski center then located off the fifth hole of the Craig Wood Golf Course.
“I’ve known the Viscome family since just about the time I was born here,” said Jay Rand, executive director of the New York Ski Educational Foundation. “John (Laura’s husband) was my ski coach when I was a kid, and Laura, of course, was a columnist and helped with the ski school. She was a great contributer to the community and always had the interest of the village at heart. John has certainly been missed, and Laura will be as well.”
Laura’s sister Janet called her an “all around sports-women,” pointing out that, along with skiing, she was involved in bowling, golf and another sport that became a major part of her life: bobsledding.
“Laura was always a great bobsled fan and a tireless volunteer,” said Tony Carlino, Manager Olympic Sports Complex & Olympic Jumping Complex. “She was involved with the sport in the ‘80s and 90s, doing everything from helping out during races to promotional work — there really wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to help out the organization or the athletes.”
Carlino said the entire bobsled community was sad to see her go.
“People like Laura just can’t be replaced,” he said. “She exemplified what makes Lake Placid, Lake Placid.”
Later in her life the history of the Olympic Village she loved so much became a fascination for Laura. According to village historian and close friend Beverly Reid, Laura gave countless hours to the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society.
“She really did a lot for the historical society,” said Reid, who sits on board of trustees. “Laura had a genuine interest, and gave a lot of time in assessing what we had and where we should take things.”
In 2008, Laura published “Then and Now, Lake Placid,” a collection of antique photographs set against current images in a celebration of village’s history. In it she writes: “When asked if I would (write this book), I jumped at the opportunity as a way of benefiting the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society, which will realize all the author’s portion of the profits.”
“That book is still making us money today,” said Reid, who was the unofficial proofreader. “But her working on that wonderful book is just one example of a lifetime of serving the village. She dedicated her life to the community. Well, family first and then the community.”
A service was held on Sunday evening to celebrate the life of a women who worked tirelessly to support her family and better a community that was dear to her heart. It wasn’t a surprise to Laura’s daughter Janet that there was an incredible turn out.
“We always knew how important her role in the community was and I think the services Sunday night showed how much she meant to everyone,” she said. “There was a four hour wait for people just to get through the door.”
Laura Viscome on the slopes during her younger years teaching skiing at the Mt. Whitney Ski School.
Photo courtesy of the Viscome family