The town of York has approximately 13,000 residents. It lost one of them in the middle of last month. Most people living in York probably did not know Ethan Tolman, even though they drive past his house on York Street all the time. Ethan and his wife Pamela had lived in York for just three years. For most of his 81 years, Ethan had lived in Nelson, New Hampshire the small town where he and his ancestors were born and raised.

In moving to York, the Tolmans (married in 1962) did something most people never have the courage to do — start over. They bought a house big enough to allow space for their impressive personal library, for Ethan’s files and writing projects and for Pamela’s painting. They got enough land to remind them of the rural life they’d lived in Nelson where they once owned 1,100 acres.

Their move was York’s good fortune. Ethan came to the town library with ideas about how to make it better. He attended a library planning meeting last April and in characteristic fashion told his story. The public library in Nelson had created a program to introduce local people to the community. Ethan helped the YPL develop a similar program for York. “Who Are the People in Our Neighborhood?” has been running at the YPL monthly since October.

It was through the York Public Library that I first came to know Ethan. Like me, Ethan was a retired professor, a writer and a bibliophile. The library is where we met but it was his writing that turned us into friends. Ethan and Pamela had taught for many years at Franklin Pierce College (now University) in Rindge, New Hampshire. He earned his undergraduate degree in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, took a Master’s degree at the University of New Hampshire and then did doctoral studies at Boston College. At Franklin Pierce he taught history and sociology.

Perhaps it was his love of history that kept Ethan in Nelson but my conversations with him showed just how much the town fascinated him. He knew everyone in Nelson which wasn’t all that hard, I suppose, because only about 300 people lived there when Ethan and Pamela were first married. When he died last month, Ethan was in the middle of writing his memoir; a manuscript centered on Nelson, New Hampshire.

I read many of the essays he was working on. Several things struck me about his project. First, was his prodigious memory. Ethan had a command of the past that most of us never attain. I think he was able to remember things because he paid such close attention to what was going on around him. He listened carefully and vividly remembered conversations he’d had many years before; remembered details about the day these conversations took place; recalled the thoughts and feelings he’d experienced. One of his essays was about meeting Gov. Jimmy Carter when Carter was running for president in 1976. Forty-three years ago but still vivid.

Another notable thing was his fervid imagination. One essay he shared was about a stone arrowhead. Ethan imagined how the arrowhead had been left there by natives during a hunt, how it was found in the 1920s and how he became familiar with it.

The third thing was the craftsmanship of his writing. Here is a sample that combines all three of these features of Ethan’s writing:

“It is 1943, and a small boy walks, and sometimes runs, so eager is he to get to his grandparents’ house, half a mile from his own. He runs in the center of the dirt road, for he is barefoot, and in the middle of the road there is soft grass.”

Sadly, Ethan’s manuscript will never be finished now. Ethan Tolman slipped on the ice in his driveway on Feb. 18 and struck his head. He suffered a concussion and a cerebral aneurysm that proved catastrophic. He died two days later at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. Pamela will be moving back to New Hampshire some time this year.

York has about 12,999 residents. Some are well known to everyone. Others are known only to their friends and neighbors. Some are virtually unknown, but each resident has a story to tell; each has a story worth listening to. The words of Dylan Thomas come to mind: “Listen,” he says, “Time passes. Listen.” Ethan Tolman understood that and listened the way he lived his life with vigor.

Ron McAllister is a sociologist and writer who lives in York.