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January 11, 2014

Lives: Mentor to teens founded Friends Forever

DANVERS — In his later years, Robert Raiche was known to many kids in town as the kindly owner of Toys and Things, an old-fashioned toy store with a Danvers High student working the computer and a life-size stuffed teddy bear out front.

Before that, generations of young people knew Raiche as the director of YMCAs in Danvers; Salem; Springfield; Hilo, Hawaii; and Portsmouth, N.H.

He is perhaps best known, however, as someone who tried to bring a measure of peace to young people caught up in conflicts in Northern Ireland and Israel, through the Friends Forever program, which he founded and then chaired for many years. The group has met with former President George H.W. Bush, and won praise from former Sen. George Mitchell, a leader in peace talks in Northern Ireland. Congressman John Tierney nominated Raiche for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

“He was so excited about that,” Stephen Martineau, executive director of Friends Forever, said of the nomination. “It was quite an honor that happened.”

Raiche died Jan. 1 at age 85 after becoming ill around Thanksgiving. He was diagnosed with cancer in his chest in early December, said his son, Robert Raiche Jr.

Raiche had dreamed of returning to Hawaii, where he started a YMCA and met his wife of 53 years, and it had been his desire to live another 20 years to see the Friends Forever organization grow, his son said.

“He was a lot more than Friends Forever,” Raiche Jr. said. “He was the kind of guy who was your No. 1 cheerleader.” Raiche was a calm, steady man who was never judgmental. He spoke highly of his three children and four grandchildren, and never failed to recognize even the smallest accomplishments of others, his son said. He was a cheerleader for the underdog kid.

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