Remembering Barbara Pearson-Rac

Barbara Pearson Rac died last night, after a long battle with cancer.

Most remembrances of noted Westporters use the words of family members, friends and admirers. Sometimes I post a previous “06880” story about them.

Today it’s fitting to memorialize the founder and longtime director of Westport’s First Night celebration — and ditto for Make a Difference Day — with her own words.

Six months ago, when Barbara moved from Westport, I was honored to post her farewell to the town she loved. Below is my introduction, followed by her thoughts.


After nearly 30 years in Westport, Barbara Pearson-Rac is leaving.

She has made a difference here in so many ways. That’s literal: Make a Difference Day was one of her wonderful projects.

So was First Night. For 2 decades, our town rang in New Year’s with a host of fun activities. Hundreds of volunteers made it work. But none of it would have been possible without Barbara’s prodigious passion, energy and talent.

Soon, Barbara will leave this town she has done so much for. She’s been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As she explains below, she’ll spend precious time with her daughter and family.

Westport owes an enormous debt to Barbara Pearson-Rac. She’s done so much for us, for so long. Godspeed, Barbara, from the town that loves you just as much as you’ve loved us.

Dear Westporters,

In the early 1990s, my family moved to Westport. We visited many towns in Fairfield County, but were always drawn back here. We sensed this welcoming and inclusive town would be ideal to raise our elementary school age daughter.

Barbara Pearson-Rac

As a product of the ’60s, I experienced the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. These tragedies led to a conscious decision to devote myself to community service. I realized I couldn’t move mountains but any impact, no matter how small, was my goal.

Shortly after we settled in Westport, I participated in the ADL World of Difference program. The outgrowth of my experience became Westport’s Make a Difference Day.

We mobilized adults and children to work on projects for non-for-profit organizations. We went beyond our town borders to help people in need across Fairfield County. This day of volunteering in October grew every year. It was so successful that in our 10th year we received national recognition for our work.

During 2020, due to COVID we had to scale back dramatically, but we were able to help where we could. I am so proud of our many Westporters who have made this event an integral part of our town culture.

First Night, our town New Year’s Eve party, was designed to bring our community together to share in a joyous entertainment event and strengthen ties. I ran the event for many years with a dedicated board and many community volunteers. Together we enjoyed music, fun for all ages, and the beginning of a new year.

The evening always ended at Jesup Green. Everyone gathered around a bonfire watching the fireworks. The happiness in everyone’s faces kept me and the board active in this endeavor for over 20 years, until it was no longer financially feasible. But it was our gift to the town.

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Now I am on a new journey. I have to say goodbye to my beloved Westport and all the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years.

I have been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Soon my husband and I will move to Pennsylvania to be close to my daughter, son-in-law and 2 small grandsons. I want to spend as much time with them as I have left.

Do not feel sorry for me, though. Diagnosed in August, I have responded to chemotherapy better than the doctors ever expected. I remain active, with 3 yoga classes a week, working on my 5th novel (it’s almost completed), participating in virtual author talks, serving on the Senior Center board, and in Zoom with my friends.

I may have cancer, but my life goes on. I hope I’ve been a role model for my daughter on how best to cope when life throws you a curveball.

So with sadness I say goodbye to Westport, all my friends and colleagues, and the opportunities it has given me.

9 responses to “Remembering Barbara Pearson-Rac

  1. Thank you Barbara, for all you have done for Westport. Wishing you much strength on this next chapter.

  2. Susan Gold Falkenstein

    I was blessed to have known Barbara through my work at the Westport Historical Society; always smiling and expressing sincere gratitude whenever someone came to offer assistance. She left an impression on me because she embodied creativity, passion, courage and determination in everything she did. Her legacy and spirit will live on in all of us who had the pleasure of knowing her.

  3. Barbara was a very loving, caring and truly community-minded individual who I admired for her passion, energy and positive ‘can do’ attitude. As the committee chair, Barbara’s leadership during our First Nigh board meetings was to ensure our Westport/Weston family and neighboring communities enjoyed the very best New Year’s Eve experience as she did just that year after year with the support of many willing and dedicated volunteers.

    Thanks to Barbara’s devotion, inspiration and in planning the Westport/Weston First Night event did so many families with children and friends enjoy a special evening of such a wonderful variety of entertainment and fun for those young and old throughout downtown Westport.

    As devoted to community service that was exceptional and special in so many ways will you be missed Barbara yet certainly not forgotten!

  4. God Bless you

    Your strength is inspiring

  5. Hedi Lieberman

    May her memory be a blessing.

  6. Sylvia Corrigan

    As a First Night Volunteer, I was put at ease by Barbara’s calm demeanor, personal warmth and willingness to get any problems that came up solved as soon as she was contacted. She showed interest in everyone – a rare gift!

  7. Betty Lou Cummings

    I had conversations with Barbara, months before she moved…she hwwas so optimific…of course we talked the demise of a favorite of mime…First Night.. She was a blessing to Westport…and will truly be missed…Sympathy to Frank & her family…thinking of you all…Betty Lou Cummings

  8. Christine Baskin

    I met Barbara in 2016 as a new commuter to NYC. And no, I am not one of the characters in her books. She welcomed me to chat and ride among the small cadre of women who had been her ‘train friends’ for several years. And together we laughed, we cried, we shared, we worried, all those many hours. We met each other’s families and friends, and made opportunities to be social as often as possible. Her kindness was infectious, leaving imprints wherever she went. She will be missed. May her memory be a blessing. Christine Baskin

  9. Jessica Bram

    Losing Barbara Pearson-Rac is a huge loss to this town, to her family, and to all of us who knew her. She was so proud of having become an accomplished mystery writer late in life with the same perseverance, optimism, and sunshiny spirit she gave so many years with Make a Difference Day and one of the very first managers of First Night. Barbara was a gift of sunshine and generosity to our town. She will be missed.