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.
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.
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.
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.