Remembering Jackie Heneage

Jacqueline Heneage — Westport’s 1st female 1st selectman — died October 3. She was 96 years old.

A former president of the League of Women Voters, her election over incumbent John Kemish in 1973 marked the first time a Democrat had won the top spot since 1948. She was 3 more times, serving until 1981.

Jackie Heneage, 1979

As noted in Woody Klein’s history of Westport, she hired a grantswoman who obtained nearly $2 million. It was used to convert Bedford Elementary School into Town Hall, and for open space acquisition, a youth center (now the Gillespie Center), elderly housing, the Police Department and beautification projects.

Heneage extended long-term projects like flood control, and sewers and road improvements. She believed the town had enough commercial zoning, and pushed for reduced building sites, increased setbacks and the elimination of Design Development Districts.

Westport’s school population declined sharply during her tenure. In addition to the Bedford Elementary School conversion,  Hillspoint Elementary School became a childcare center; Greens Farms Elementary became the Westport Arts Center, and Saugatuck Elementary on Bridge Street became elderly housing.

Heneage also oversaw the construction of the transfer station on the Sherwood Island Connector, extension of sewers on Post Road East and in many residential areas, and the move of fire station headquarters from Church Lane to its current Post Road location.

Jackie Heneage in 2002 with Ted Diamond. He served as her 2nd selectman.

She entered into long negotiations with Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff, who owned 32 acres of land on the Post Road East/Compo Road North corner. In 1979 the RTM voted to appropriate $3,48 million for the purchase, but postponed giving her condemnation authority if the baron refused to sell. After her administration, the land became Winslow Park.

Heneage also oversaw Westport’s participation in the nation’s bicentennial celebration in 1976. Over that July 4th weekend, Main Street between the Post Road and Elm Street turned from 2-way traffic to a 1-way street.

But Jackie Heneage was more than a groundbreaking first selectwoman. Her daughter Audrey sends along this remembrance.

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Our mother, Jackie Heneage was a dynamo. During our childhood she worked part-time, volunteered in many civic organizations, played tennis and still found time to put a hot meal on the table every night (despite not being a domestic
goddess)!

Saturday mornings we woke up to Broadway tunes or classical music blasting in the living room and our list of chores. It was always: clean your room and another space, plus mow one side of the lawn in summer. But after that we were
free to do whatever with whoever until dinner.

Summertimes we were shipped off to Beach School or Longshore every day for swim lessons and general tanning. This regimentation may have felt onerous to us, but it allowed my mom to continue being herself and not drown in family life.

There was no guilt on her part and no lasting damage to us kids. In fact, the structure was just what we needed.

Winter vacations meant a visit to our grandparents in Hanover, New Hampshire where she taught us all how to ski on her old equipment on the golf course behind her house, which had a rope tow in winter. She threw us into all the activities she had loved as a child. We were always outside riding bikes, skating, swatting at tennis balls. While only one of us became an athlete (Cynthia). the exposure was not a waste. She supported Cynthia in every sport she wanted to try — swimming, figure skating, skiing, gymnastics. She became proficient at all of them, although Mom finally told her she had to focus on one because she didn’t have time to drive her to the various practices.

Our mother planned fantastic trips and outings for our family. After Cynthia brought home several books on the national parks, she planned a 1-month trip out west. In summer 1966 we visited 7 different national parks and Mexico.

Jackie Heneage (seated) with her daughters.

The ’60s were the time of her increasing involvement in the Westport League of Women Voters, eventually becoming its president. The League’s study of town government prepared her for her first political campaign for a seat on the Zoning
Board of Appeals, and her later successful campaign for First Selectman.

As first selectman she was busy at work all day, and at town meetings every night. She took speechwriting very seriously and labored over each one, reading them aloud for our feedback.

On weekends, the police chief called her to report various disturbances around the town, many which her youngest daughter had attended (but never as a troublemaker)!

Her 8 years in office coincided with her parents needing increasing care in New Hampshire. Every holiday she and our father Peter traveled to give the caregivers their time off, never taking the holiday for themselves.

Jackie Heneage, reading the Westport News.

She retired from First Selectman in 1981 and went on to further corporate and government jobs. In 1983 she became a grandmother and doted on her grandchildren.

After her retirement in 1992 she and Peter delighted in taking them on excursions and extended trips, in between their own travels. She continued to play her favorite sport, tennis, until she was 80 years old. She was eventually blessed with 5 great-grandchildren she loved to see.

Peter and Jackie moved to Sedona, Arizona in 2018. Always active, Jackie made a friend who took her to meetings of the Sedona League of Women Voters and out to lunch. Jackie maintained her sense of humor and upbeat attitude to the end, becoming a favorite at Sedona Winds Assisted Living. But when she reached the age of 96, the age of Peter at his death, she decided it was time to check up on him, and off she went. We will miss her dearly

9 responses to “Remembering Jackie Heneage

  1. My apologies. the original post included a photo of Julie Belaga in error.

  2. Dan, Your obituary of Jackie was, as always, accurate and interesting. But Audrey’s recollection of her mother was poignant and touching!

  3. Betty Lou Cummings

    Jackie Henage did so many good & great things for Westport! I especially remember her when I walked into her office and asked her to write a letter supporting the 1st Apple Festival in Westport…she gladly did that and the 18 years of the Appple…we thank her…Rest in Peace Jackie!

  4. iBetty Lou Cummings

    I remember Jackie Henage for all the good & great things she did for Westport….One day I walked into her office to ask her to sign a letter to welcome an “Apple Festival” in Westport…she did gladly & our thanks to her for the 18 years of the town’s Apple Festival!! Rest in Peace Jackie! Betty Lou Cummings

  5. I was Town Attorney during Jackie’s time in office and had the opportunity to watch her function. She was dedicated, imaginative, hard working, persuasive and decisive. She never let politics influence her judgment about what was best for the town. Just what Westport needed then and could use today.

  6. Thank you to Audrey for this lovely remembrance. Jackie was, indeed, a special person, one I feel privileged to have known.

  7. Here’s a memory about Ms. Heneage…

    In the spring of us 1973 (I believe it was) the group that started WWPT, which was started essentially in parallel with WMNR at Masuk HS in Monroe, was at a town meeting seeking approval to place our antenna on a pole affixed to one of the old radar towers at the Bayberry Lane Nike Site.

    A NIMBYist who had apparently spent a bit too much time in the bar car on the way home stood up and objected, saying, “What if my kids climb the pole and fall off and get hurt? It’s a hazard and I’m opposed to it!”

    Ms. Heneage, observing that he was slightly in his cups, stood up and said, “Sir, would it make you happy if we greased the pole?”

    The set up was approved and WWPT moved forward without further incident.

  8. Jackie brought a new dynamic to Westport when she became first selectman. A wonderful friend, a caring politician and a Westport treasure. RIP, dear Jackie.

  9. Way back in 1975 my 5th grade class at Coleytown invited her to visit us and talk about…whatever. And she did! I still have her autograph!

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