When Joan Hume earned her master’s degree in English, the commencement speaker said the usual stuff. Joan remembers one line: “Your new life is just beginning.”
She wasn’t sure how true that would be. Graduation Day was also her 50th birthday.
Now, she realizes, “going back to school in the middle of my life gave me new energy. It gave me a very different way of thinking.”
She got a part-time job at the Ridgefield Library, near where she lived. “The director told me I could do whatever I wanted, so long as I didn’t offend more than 70% of the people in town,” she recalls.
Joan wrote newsletters, planned programs, and never crossed that 70% threshold.
After 5 years, she heard that Maxine Bleiweis — director of the Westport Public Library — was looking for a full-time program and community relations head. One qualification: a master’s in library science.
Joan didn’t have it. But she got the job. She started on January 2, 2000 — exactly 2 years after Maxine’s 1st day.
Joan dove into creating programs, designing newsletters and planning development. “It was a very busy job,” she says. “I loved the people. And I learned something new every day.”
This month marks the end of Joan’s Westport Library career. She and her husband are moving to Cincinnati — an interesting city where she has relatives, can make an impact, and spend less than she does in Connecticut.
But leaving will be hard. Westport, she says, “is like a village. I didn’t live here, but people I hardly knew supported me through rough times. They treated me like they’d known me all my life. They gave me wings to fly.” She also loves her colleagues.
In return, the town and library appreciate Joan’s work. They’ve flocked to her programs. One of the most memorable was when Westporter Phil Donahue talked about his documentary on the Afghan war.
“There were veterans in the audience, and things got testy,” Joan remembers. “But Phil made a joke, people laughed, Maxine thanked everyone for coming, and that was the end.”
Another tense moment: When Deirdre Imus appeared just days after her husband Don — Phil Donahue’s neighbors, coincidentally — made vulgar remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Both Imuses arrived with bodyguards. Joan had the Westport police on alert, “just in case.”
Most of her programs are far more mellow — but no less interesting. Her most recent project is the Mini-Maker Faire. “It’s easy to say, ‘Why do something like that?'” she says. “But then you see how it all works, and you know it’s the right thing to do.”
This Friday (6:30 p.m.), the public is invited to say goodbye and thank you to Joan Hume.
But, she says, “I’m the one who should be giving a party for people. They’ve got a contagious energy that has benefited me so much. I’m very lucky to have been able to work here.”
That grad school commencement speaker knew what he was talking about after all.