Category Archives: People

Remembering Lou Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett — a member of that great generation of post-war Westporters who helped define this town for half a century — died early today. She was 92 years old.

Lou was a lifelong educator. She spent many years in the Westport school system. Perhaps best known as a Staples High School English teacher, she was beloved by colleagues and students for her deep wisdom, gentle nature, and genuine concern for everyone she met.

Lucille "Lou" Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett

As a founding member of Temple Israel, she helped create one of the town’s most active social justice institutions. As first principal of its religious school, she made sure that there was as strong an emphasis on current affairs as on Jewish education.

Lou was also a gifted poet. She was published frequently, and never missed a chance to pass on her love for the craft.

Her son George says:

Mom was humble, fierce in her convictions, devoted, and always focused on the needs of others. I have heard over the years many stories from people I don’t even know about how my mother transformed their lives, or started their careers, or pushed them to take a chance on something in which they believed.

She was also the connecting tissue for an enormous family ecosystem that now spans 4 generations, and multiple continents.

Lou’s husband, Herb, died this past May, at 93. The Barretts were married for 73 years. Lou is survived by 5 children, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for Tuesday (October 6, 12:30 p.m.), at Temple Israel.

Sleeping With The Pope

As chairman of Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Charlie Haberstroh takes his job seriously. So the other day he read a long Wall Street Journal story titled “The New Mattress Professionals.” Hey, beds are great spots for recreational activities, right?

Charlie plowed through tons of details about Eve and Casper, Leesa and Keetsa. These startups are apparently turning the mattress industry upside down, with new marketing techniques. One of those is “celebrity endorsements or associations.”

Near the end, this caught Charlie’s eye:

Pope Francis was expected to sleep on a memory foam relaxed firm queen-sized mattress by West Port, Conn.-based online luxury mattress startup Saatva’s Loom & Leaf division. The pontiff visited the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia last weekend, according to Stephen Dolan, the seminary’s chief financial officer. Mr. Dolan said the mattress was donated but declined to comment further and referred questions to the company.

Saatva chief executive Ron Rudzin says he is “simply honored and blessed” by the news.

I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.

I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.

Stuart Carlitz, chief executive of Bedding Industries of America, which manufactures Saatva mattresses, says he was approached by representatives from the World Meeting of Families, who asked if he could supply a bed for the Holy Father…. Mr. Carlitz says he donated the Saatva mattress, which retails for $999.

Today is Sunday. That’s a work day for the pope, so I couldn’t call the Vatican to ask how he slept.

Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That's the Saugatuck River behind him.

Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That’s the Saugatuck River behind him.

I had never heard of Saatva — let alone known that it’s headquartered right here in 06880.

I checked the company’s website to learn more about their Westport connection. I could not find much — beyond CEO Rudzin saying he likes to fish in the Saugatuck River — but I did find this:

Saatva is the fastest growing online mattress company in the country. Our honest passion for making each customer happy is the daily mantra. Our non commissioned, courteous and expert representatives give honest “no pressure” guidance. Our teams working in our 14 ‘partnering’ American factories are so proud to be building a luxury product that is healthy for the body and safe for the environment.

Additionally, we believe in building long term friendships with our delivery teams throughout our fulfillment centers. We love the culture that we’ve created as we are a wonderfully diverse and spirited group of employees who enjoy doing our part to keep America building.

So where is Saatva located?

There is no address on their website. BBB Business Review says they’re at 8 Wright Street. puts them at 25 Sylvan Lane South, Suite W.

I would have called headquarters to find out.

But it’s Sunday. Everyone is sleeping in.

In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.

In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.


Annie Keefe, Arthur Miller And Marilyn

Westport Country Playhouse associate artist Annie Keefe has had a legendary life in theater.

Before coming here, she spent more than 20 years at Long Wharf. In 1994 she worked on the world premiere of “Broken Glass” — a riveting story of Kristallnacht and Jewish identity. Playwright Arthur Miller was there for most rehearsals.

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Keefe recalls:

The material was fascinating, dense and complex, and we were the first people to explore it. It was thrilling to watch the actors, along with Arthur, tease out the plot and build the characters. It was a complicated and difficult birthing process.  Director John Tillinger and Arthur were longtime friends, and there were post-rehearsal conversations I wish I had had the sense to focus on. But there were production notes to be sent and schedules to be made and things in the rehearsal hall to reset for the next day.

On Wednesday (October 6), the curtain goes up on the Playhouse production of “Broken Glass.” Keefe looks forward to artistic director Mark Lamos’ interpretation.

She’s also thinking about Arthur Miller. The legendary playwright’s connections with the Playhouse — and this area — are strong.

This will be the 6th Miller production at the Playhouse. “Death of a Salesman” was 1st, in 1966. “The Price,” “All My Sons” (twice) and “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” followed.

In the late 1950s, Miller lived here with his then-wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

A few years ago, Daniel Brown wrote about the couple for the arts journal AEQAI.

One morning, when he was 12, he saw Miller and Monroe at Weston Market. She wore blue jeans and sunglasses. A babushka covered her head. Brown wanted an autograph; his mother said no, she deserved privacy. He could, however, say “Good morning, Mrs. Miller.”

She replied, “Hello, little boy.” But she looked unspeakably sad.

Brown left the store with his mother.

“Mom,” he asked, “why did Marilyn Monroe look so sad? Doesn’t she have everything she wants? And who is that old guy she’s with?”

(For more recollections from Keefe, click here for the Westport Country Playhouse blog. For information on “Broken Glass,” click here. For Daniel Brown’s full recollection of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, click here. For Mark Lamos’ thoughts on Miller, click the YouTube video below.)

(Hat tip: Ann Sheffer)

Coming Soon To Westport: The Wadsworth Arboretum?

Hartford has the Wadsworth Atheneum.

If Lou Mall has his way, Westport may soon have its own Wadsworth Arboretum.

The RTM member has asked our board of selectmen to rename 11.84 acres on Stony Brook Road “the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.”

The proposed Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called "Stony Brook property" on this Google Maps Earth view.

The proposed Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called “Stony Brook property” on this Google Maps Earth view.

According to Mall, in 1959 Wadsworth sold land on the  corner of Stony Brook and Woodside to the town — for $1. It was purchased for a school, which was never built.

This property, Mall says, “is a priceless gift to generations to come.”

In December 2013, nearby resident Dick Fincher wrote his RTM representatives about the property. He described damage done during a 2009 storm, and expressed concern about the town’s liability to anyone walking on the land. No action was taken, Mall says, due to a lack of funds.

In early spring 2014, 1st  Selectman Jim Marpe asked tree warden Bruce Lindsay to inspect the property. He applied for and received an urban forestry grant. The Planning and Zoning Commission then designated the area as open space. Fincher and neighbor John Howe cleaned up the property, saving a beautiful Norway maple tree.

Land near the proposed Wadsworth Arboretum.

Land near the proposed Wadsworth Arboretum.

Now, Mall says, the land needs a name.

Wadsworth was born in 1887  in New York, and died at her Kings Highway North home in 1962. (Her great-granddaughter, Sarah Cronquist, lives there today.) Wadsworth was a philanthropist, artist and sculptor, and widow of industrialist Dudley Wadsworth.

As founder and president of the Lillian Wadsworth Foundation, she contributed to the Mid-Fairfield County Museum — now called Earthplace — and donated 62 acres to it.

She was also active in the Westport Garden Club, Westport Library, Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities, the Connecticut Antiquarian and Landmark Society and New York Horticultural Society.

The land Mall hopes to name for Wadsworth is heavily wooded. Designated as “passive recreation” space, its location adjacent to Earthplace makes it attractive to nature lovers.

“We have an opportunity to make this parcel the blueprint for neighborhood and volunteer involvement of funding, building and maintaining open space in Westport,” Mall says. “We need to respond as Lillian did, with clear thought and vigorous action.”

(Hat tip: Doug Fincher)

Stephen Wilkes’ Blood Moon

Stephen Wilkes has a thing for Compo Beach.

And National Geographic has a thing for Stephen Wilkes.

In June, the magazine’s very popular Instagram feed featured the talented Westport photographer’s shot of some amazing clouds — framed by a lifeguard stand — after a storm.

In a matter of hours, it gained hundreds of thousands of likes — and admiring comments in dozens of languages.

Yesterday, the Natgeo Instagram feed included Wilkes’ lovely shot of Sunday night’s fantastic eclipse.

Copyright/Stephen Wilkes

Copyright/Stephen Wilkes

Wilkes wrote:

A view we won’t have again until 2033. In many parts of the US, clouds obstructed this incredible phenomenon. In my case, I drove a few miles from my home to a local beach and was very excited to find a clear sky, allowing me to take an unobstructed photo of the #bloodmooneclipse.

Once again, “06880” is where Westport meets the world — as well as the moon, the sky and the stars.

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Jarret Liotta’s “Home Movie”

Some people know Jarret Liotta as a Westport News writer. Others know him as a parent volunteer, with Staples Players and Coleytown Middle School. Some even recall him as a former teacher at Saugatuck Elementary School.

But the Staples High School Class of 1983 graduate is at heart a movie maker. It is, he says, “what I do best.”

Jarret Liotta

Jarret Liotta

And though he’s proud of his 2 feature-length films — “How Clean is My Laundry” (shot in Westport in 2002) and “The Acting Bug” (Los Angeles, 2009) — he has never been more passionate about a project than his current one.

Called “Home Movie,” it draws on lessons learned in L.A., where Liotta worked for several years at Fox Searchlight.

The main character is based on Liotta’s mother. He calls her “a larger-than-life alcoholic narcissist that some people in Westport will certainly remember — fondly, I hope.”

He futzed around with the idea for 2 years. Finally this spring, he wrote a script that he’s thrilled with.

“Home Movie” is about a young woman who comes home after her father’s death. When she arrives — in a town not unlike Westport — she begins to suspect that her mother may actually have killed him.

It’s a comedy, but a dark one that he hopes shows some heart. It lies somewhere among “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Fargo,” with fun twists and a surprise ending.

Liotta plans to shoot in Westport, with plenty of community involvement.

Westport’s own Cynthia Gibb — a Staples grad, film and TV star, and the writer’s first choice to play the mom– loves the script. She is interested in doing “Home Movie,” if possible.

But first things first. And high on that list: financing.

Liotta has organized an Indiegogo campaign. His goal is $250,000.

Some Westporters are already involved. Liotta hopes for more. “It’s very exciting to make a real movie. It begins locally, but will develop into something quite special,” he says.

“I hope people take a little leap of faith and fly with this,” he adds. “I’m taking a big leap to follow my dream. But as the man said, you’ll never fly if you don’t jump off!”

(To contribute to Jarret Liotta’s Indiegogo fundraising campaign, click here.)

Former Staples Teachers Are Definitely Not The Retiring Types

Over 200 years of teaching experience was on display the other day, at the Newtown Country Club.

A group of educators gathered for the 1st annual Staples Retired Teachers Golf Classic — and what a classic it was.

Retired Staples teachers

In the photo above are, from left: Bruce McFadden (science), Ed Bludnicki (science, administration, adult education), Pete Van Hagen (science), Tommy Owen (special education), Jim Wheeler (art), Jeff Lea (world language), Bill Walsh (math — and not retired), Bill Brookes (science).

No word on who won. But Wheeler proudly displays his award, for “most uncooperative balls.”

See what happens when these guys leave the classroom?

Chrissy’s Story

Life, John Lennon wrote, is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

As a young girl in Fairfield, Chrissy had plans. Growing up — and on into her 20s and 30s — she made many more. But life — messy, real life — kept getting in the way.

Chrissy (who asked that her last name not be used) is African American. She was adopted by a white family. From a young age, she was taunted by other kids for her skin color and curly hair. Her adoptive father once called her a “black bitch.”

But that wasn’t the worst.

Her brother — also adopted, though white — molested her for several years.

Chrissy ran away from home several times. Around 13, she landed in a New Haven home for adolescents. Then the state placed her in Project Return.

The North Compo Road group home offers a safe haven to girls who have suffered severe emotional trauma. It was the stable environment Chrissy needed for years.

She found wonderful support there. Director Susie Basler was a calming presence. Other staff members were kind and understanding. There were “typical girl fights,” Chrissy says, but the girls shared common bonds. “We all had issues and problems. We supported each other. And we knew it was OK to be ourselves.”

Project Return: where girls and young women transform their lives.

Project Return: where girls and young women transform their lives.

She attended Staples — a “great high school,” she says. She had a good group of friends, and a special boyfriend. She led a “semi-normal” life.

But Chrissy missed having a mother, father and siblings who loved and accepted her.

At 19 — perhaps seeking the close-knit family she never had — Chrissy had a son. Four years later, she had another.

Her adoptive parents — by then divorced — did not talk to her during her 1st pregnancy. But they showed up at the hospital after she gave birth, and fell in love with their grandson. They’ve been good grandparents, she says. “Perhaps this is their way of making up for their mistakes.”

At one point, Chrissy sought out her biological parents. She learned that her biological grandparents lived around the corner from her. She’d seen them at restaurants, though she had not known they were related.

When she met them, they were cool to her — because, she says, of her race. They also discouraged their daughter — Chrissy’s biological mother — from seeing her. “The door was constantly shut in my face,” she says.

Chrissy admits, “I’m not perfect. I’ve had issues. But I’m so lucky I was never addicted to drugs, or became a prostitute. A lot of women in my situation do.”

In her search for an ideal family — which never happened — she’s been in therapy. But, she notes, “psychiatrists can only give you direction. You have to put the work in to make something happen.”

Carol Cooper Garey

Carol Cooper Garey

One constant in her life is Carol Cooper Garey. The Westporter met Chrissy years ago, after I wrote a “Woog’s World” Westport News column about a young African American girl who was looking for a family.

Today, Carol is the godmother of Chrissy’s older, college son. “She’s been in my life no matter what,” Chrissy says gratefully. “No matter what mistakes I made, Carol never judged me. I knew she would always support me.”

Chrissy went to school, and earned an associate’s degree. She’s working now on her bachelor’s.

She had an accounting job. But life always throws her curveballs.

Several months ago, she was hit by a truck in Fairfield. She wrecked her spine, and embarked on a long recovery.

Finally, life is looking up. Chrissy is in a relationship — “the most healthy one I’ve ever had,” she says proudly. Though it is hard for her partner to hear what she’s endured, he is extremely supportive.

All of what she’s done takes “a ton of work,” Chrissy says. “It’s not easy. I’ve made a ton of mistakes. But healing is important. I just have to push forward.

“I was stuck for so long. There’s no magic pill. The memories won’t go away. But my work — changing behaviors — can be done.”

One of the most important things, Chrissy says, has been to forgive her abuser. It was “incredibly hard,” and did not happen until very recently.

Yet, she says, it had to be done. Otherwise, she could not have taken the next steps forward.

“I’m still a work in progress,” Chrissy explains.

She says it in a strong, confident voice. She is ready — no, eager — to keep moving ahead.


Bart Shuldman: Tax Increase Could Have Been Avoided

Alert “06880” reader and frequent commenter Bart Shuldman writes:

I watched the September 2 video of the Board of Finance meeting, and was surprised to learn Westport just finished the fiscal year with a $4 million surplus — even though 2 months ago the decision was made to raise taxes.

From what I listened to, the revenue in Westport came in a bit higher but costs were much lower. One cost center, Public Works came in over $600,000 lower in costs which had to be known, yet the finance director in Westport did not project that (and other lower costs) just 2 months back.

When disaster strikes, Westport's Public Works Department responds.

When disaster strikes, Westport’s Public Works Department responds.

How could the finance director not know this while a discussion as going on about increasing taxes? If the Board of Finance knew that we would end the year with a big surplus (over 2% of the budget), would we have avoided a tax increase? I am told: yes.

Not only did the costs come in much lower, the Board of Education returned $180,000 back to the town. I guess the constant request of needing more money for our school system was not needed last year.

These tax increases hurt our senior citizens the most. With low interest rates and low returns in the stock market, anyone who is retired has a difficult time if their costs increase. Now these residents face increased taxes in Westport when it should have been avoided.

The good news is our first selectman and Board of Finance have done a great job controlling costs. They clearly deserve our thanks. But now it’s time to get a functioning finance department in Westport that can forecast better, especially with just 2 months to go. Not being able to provide the necessary information to our Board of Finance regarding our financial results as we get close to the end of the fiscal year is very concerning, and resulted in an unnecessary tax increase.


Town finance director Gary Conrad replies:

In May we projected a conservative $2.5 million surplus. Because of this, the Board of Finance set the mill rate using $4.1 million dollars of fund balance to reduce the tax increase. So in effect we used the whole $4.0 million surplus to reduce taxes while the mill rate increase was only .84%. Department of Public Works savings were achieved due to lower solid waste costs and the deferral of building maintenance, tree maintenance and parks and recreation property maintenance.


2nd Selectman Avi Kaner — a former chair and 8-year member of the Board of Finance — also responds:

Westport’s annual budget stands at over $200 million. Our town department heads and the Board of Finance work diligently to control our expenses and report to the public on a monthly basis.

Westport sealBecause the Board of Finance did not meet in August, the resulting surplus was discussed in September. The amount of the surplus caught the members by surprise given the values shown in July.

The good news is that any budget surplus enters into the town’s general reserves and is available to defray any tax increase. The Board of Finance has been pegging the town’s reserves at a conservative 11%, aggressively paying down long term debt, fully funding our pension obligations, and maintaining our AAA rating.

When the Board of Finance sets the mil rate again in about 8 months, the surplus will be used to lower the change in mil rate once again for that fiscal year. We will work with the finance department to more accurately forecast revenues and expenses on a monthly basis.

Deacon Dave At The Papal Mass

Westport’s own David Clarke of Assumption Church was among the deacons chosen to give communion today at Pope Francis’ Madison Square Garden mass.

He not only had a prominent role — but check out the photo below. There’s a star right above his head!

Deacon Dave Clarke, front and center.

Deacon Dave Clarke, front and center.

In other papal Assumption news, Father Tom Thorne — the Riverside Avenue church pastor — was invited to the White House lawn, for this week’s welcome-to-America reception.

In a town like Westport, there must be many other Francis-related stories. If you’ve got one, click “Comments” to share.

(Hat tip: Nancy Axthelm)