Julie Belaga — whose career took her from the Westport P&Z and RTM to the Connecticut House of Representatives, then a run for governor, teaching at Harvard, regional director of the EPA and a director of the Export-Import Bank — died peacefully on Friday, at her Westport home. She was 91, and lived here since 1965.
Julie grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, where her father was a fish wholesaler on the Boston docks. After graduating from Syracuse University, she worked for several years as a 2nd-grade school teacher.
Then she found her true calling: politics. After a term as president of the Westport League of Women Voters, Julie served on the Planning and Zoning Commission (including a stint from 1972 to ’76 as chair), and on the Representative Town Meeting.
She was next elected as Westport’s representative to the Connecticut House . She served for 10 years, including positions of deputy majority leader and assistant minority leader. Julie achieved legislative success on a number of environmental issues. She took the lead in drafting and implementing Connecticut’s coastal management laws.
She was active in developing the state’s hazardous waste management service, and instrumental in reforming the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (now the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority), which provides recycling and waste disposal services for cities and towns. In 1985, the Hartford Courant named Julie one of the “Top 10 Legislators of the Year.”
After deciding not to seek reelection, Julie was chosen by the Republican Party as its 1986 candidate for governor. She lost to incumbent William O’Neill in the general election.
Out of politics for the first time in more than a decade, Julie served briefly as a television political commentator. She was also a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University and taught grassroots politics at the Kennedy School.
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed Julie as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency for New England. As regional administrator she oversaw a budget of over $5 million, and more than 14,000 employees.
After she left the EPA, Governor Lowell Weicker appointed her to the Connecticut Development Authority. She left that position in 1994, when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as one of 5 directors of the US Export-Import Bank. Clinton cited Julie’s “impressive range of public and private sector experience, particularly in the area of the environment.” She was easily confirmed by the Senate, and she served on the Ex-Im Bank board through 1999.
Julie retired from government in 1999 but continued her active community engagement, serving on the boards of several environmental organizations, including the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and the Audubon Society, as well as the Westport Library and the CT Mirror.
Julie was predeceased by her husband of more than 65 years, Mike. She is survived by her children Debra Belaga (Steve Stublarec) of Tiburon, California; David (Alison) Belaga of East Northport, New York, and Heather (Rob) McLean of Owings Mill, Maryland, and granddaughters Kristen Stublarec, Tracy Spencer and Lindsey Belaga.
Arrangements for a memorial service are pending. Donations in lieu of flowers may be sent to the Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound.
Julie was a dear family friend, always fun to be around and full of life and smarts. As is clear from her biography, she was an amazing role model for young women at a time when female politicians and government officials still were an unfortunate rarity. She was kind and generous enough to involve me in some of her late-career adventures, most notably CTMirror.org, and I always enjoyed my time with her. I think she’d smile approvingly and laugh that great laugh if I described her as a consummate mensch. Condolences to Debbie, David and Heather. Like them, the Potts family is going to miss her very much.
A beautiful couple and Julie was an incredible wife and an incredible mother.
Julie was one of a kind. She was smart, forthright, generous , thoughtful, energetic and caring. Always of good humor and optimism, she loved people and could be relied upon to provide wise counsel., I was fortunate to be her friend for many years, from the time she was chair of the P&Z and I was town attorney. I miss her already.
I got to know Julie when the RTM appointed her to the Library board of trustees. The CT Mirror was one of her favorites, and here’s what the Mirror wrote about her:
Every conversation and activity with Judy was positive and forward looking. A great Connecticut Spirit!
We need more people like Julie. Proactive and did what was best for the community.