Category Archives: People

Russ And Isabel Blair: No Stone Unturned

In 1954 a young couple bought a new home in Westport, near what is now Fresh Market. On April 16, they engraved their names on a stone.

Russ and Isabel Blair are still here. They’ve done a lot in their 6-plus decades in town, from EMS to local boards and commissions. She was a beloved Coleytown Elementary School nurse; he led many building projects, including the modern Staples High School.

As they raised their kids, moved to Woodside Avenue and enjoyed all that Westport offers, they forgot about that stone.

The Blairs’ stone.

But 66 years and 1 week from that date Carlos Colorado, his wife and young daughter moved to Westport.

While redoing their patio, they unearthed the stone. They thought about placing it somewhere prominent in their yard.

But after a quick Google search, they realized the Blairs are still alive. And still here.

Carlos posted that story on a local Facebook page. He asked anyone who knew the Blairs to please let them know.

“I am sure they would love to see this piece of their story and their memories, after so many years,” he wrote.

After 2/3 of a century in town, the Blairs are well known. Several people responded — including longtime EMT Mark Blake.

He’s known the couple for decades. He made the connection.

Mark Blake, with the stone.

Carlos showed Mark around his property — including the stone. Carlos cleaned it up, and invited the Blairs over to see “their” house.

“This is just another reason I love Westport, and am proud to serve the community,” Mark said. “These 2 families epitomize what Westport is.”

And on Friday, Carlos, his wife and daughter headed over to Woodside Avenue.

They heard all about life in Westport, when Eisenhower was president and the town was just starting to grow.

The Blairs and Colorados on Woodside Avenue, Friday afternoon.

“The Blairs are incredible people,” Carlos said. “They gave us a warm afternoon. Their strength and vitality left us amazed.

“I just hope that decades from now, my wife and I will be able to receive a young couple that happened to find a rock in the back yard of their recently purchased home in a quiet corner of Westport.

“And I hope we’ll be as bright, hearty and affection as the couple we met yesterday. In the meantime, I’ll take care of their house, as promised.”

Cockenoe Is A Hike

There are many ways to get from Westport to Cockenoe Island.

You can sail. You can paddle. You can JetSki.

Or — if you are particularly adventurous — you can walk.

Alert — and creative — “06880” reader Jeff Manchester reports:

“With a super low tide at 8:09 this morning, some intrepid souls took their soles and walked from Saugatuck Island to Cockenoe Island.

From left: Jeff Manchester, Eric Sugerman, 9th graders Jake Coykendall and Tucker Peters, and 8th grader Max Manchester, with their “support vehicle”: a mega-kayak.

“It was a brisk morning in the high 40’s when we started, and only in the 50’s when we returned. However, the water was warmer than the air, so it made for a much more enjoyable journey.

“This is a bucket list item for sure, when the tides and weather cooperate.

En route. (Photo/Mary Sugerman)

“And of course, we have the Einsels, Greens, Jo Fox Brosious and many more to thank for their herculean efforts, saving Cockenoe for future generations from an attempted nuclear power plant over 50 years ago.”

Indeed. Although if that Chernobyl-style structure had actually been built there, today’s water would be a lot warmer.

Roundup: General Wesley Clark, Odd Photo, Flipstand, More


The pandemic has not been good to the Westport Library. Just a few months after its grand transformation, it’s had to curtail hours, programs and services.

But there’s an upside. With virtual programs, it can offer access to speakers who otherwise could never travel for a live appearance. (And whose honorariums are far beyond the library’s budget too.)

One of the biggest names of all “comes to Westport” on Thursday, October 1 (6;30 p.m.). General Wesley Clark — the 4-star general. former NATO Supreme Allied commander and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree who since retiring from the military in 2000 has become a businessman, commentator, author, teacher and presidential candidate — will discuss the need for American leadership, civility and unity during these polarized times.

Last year, Clark created a nonprofit aimed at reducing partisan division and gridlock.

Click here to register for the free event.

General Wesley Clark


The New York Times home page includes — among links to dozens of articles — a rotating gallery of photos. They have nothing to do with the stories, and offer no explanatory text.

Yesterday, “06880” readers noticed this shot:

What’s up with that? What’s going on? Where was it taken? Huh?!

If you know the back story to this shot, click “Comments” below. Inquiring minds want to know! (Hat tips: Drew Coyne and Tracy Porosoff)


Longtime Westporter John Rizzi is multi-talented and creative.

Early in his career, he was Cannondale’s first industrial designer. He’s got a new company — Utilitarian Products — to develop useful, beautiful, well-priced ideas.

We are excited to introduce you to our new company, Utilitarian Products.

The first — Flipstand — is a simple lightweight bike stand. It weighs only 18.5 grams, and is far better than kickstands weighing much more.

A Kickstarter campaign launches Tuesday (September 22). Click here to see.

Flipstand


I grew up on High Point Road. I know how many drivers barrel past this stop sign on Long Lots Road, headed toward Hyde Lane (and all the traffic, and little kids, from Long Lots Elementary School).

So I was intrigued at this photo. Looks like some residents of my old road — many of whom have young kids — have taken matters into their own hands.

It’s advice that can be heeded all over town.

(Photo/Ed Simek)


And finally … my tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I think the choice of group and song is appropriate.

Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In 2007, Stephen Shackelford spent an afternoon with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Harvard Law School graduate was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. It’s a tradition for justices to get to know their colleagues’ clerks. Ginsburg did it by inviting them to her chambers, for tea.

Stephen Shackelford

Shackelford — now a Westport resident, and RTM District 8 representative — has fond memories of that day, and of watching the well-respected justice interact with her colleagues (and his boss) that year.

After her death yesterday, news stories have focused on several aspects of her style on the bench. She was “rigorously analytical and very hard-working,” Shackelford says. “She expected excellence.”

She spoke deliberately, he adds. There were long pauses during that tea, but she was very open with the clerks. It was clear she loved both the law, and her job.

“Justice Breyer loved her” in return, Shackelford says. “He had such strong respect for her. I think all the justices did.”

In fact, Shackelford notes, Ginsburg’s much-noted friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia was very real.

The year Shackelford clerked for Breyer, his justice and Ginsburg “lost a record number of 5-4 decisions,” he says.

However, the 9 justices “never got acrimonious or personal.” He thinks part of that was due to the example Ginsburg and Scalia set.

“She saw him as far more than his judicial positions. She saw him — and her colleagues — as real human beings. That was so important for everyone to see.”

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

Local artist Stephen Goldstein’s “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” is only display at the PopT’Art gallery in downtown Westport.

Brian Keane Scores Oliver Sacks

Just as Oliver Sacks was finishing his autobiography, he learned he had 6 months to live.

The world-renowned neurologist — and author of books like Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat — had terminal cancer. He invited Ric Burns to document his thoughts, and interview colleagues.

Paul Allen backed the film. “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” is a story of discovery, fascination, incredible human compassion, quirky humor, heartbreak, and the wonders of being alive.

It debuted as a hit at Telluride, sold out the New York Film Festival, and will air on PBS’ “American Masters.” It opens September 23 via streaming, and in art house theaters.

The documentary’s soundtrack was composed and created by Brian Keane. The 1971 Staples High School graduate has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and earned Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys.

Brian Keane and Ric Burns, at work on “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.”

Sacks was a complicated subject to compose music for. It was a challenge to find the best ways to make the film move viewers — and move the story along.

“Oliver was quirky, but very serious,” Keane says. “He was intellectual, but extremely compassionate. His patients were strange by outward appearance, but human beings trapped in a tunnel of their maladies, viewing a glimpse of light from a distance that Oliver was at work trying to connect for them.

“Oliver was deeply troubled himself, yet uniquely gifted. There is a deep sense of wonder, and fascination with life itself and with our existence, in this story. Oliver was asking ‘who are we?,’ yet this is also a story of a man who had 6 months to live.”

Sacks was also a classical pianist and music lover. At one point in the film Keane left him playing his own, slightly out-of-tune piano. Keane used the piano as Oliver’s voice, often with a live chamber orchestra for emotional intensity.

In the 1980s, Keane produced 4 records of Tibetan Bells with Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings, and 1 with Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart.

He thought the bells’ strange, wavelike qualities would give a scientific-like feeling of a different mind, looking at different types of conditions. They too became part of the score.

Brian Keane

“We needed pioneering electronics to devise sounds of inside-the-brain scientific discovery as well,” Keane explains. He and longtime engineer Jeff Frez-Albrecht explored their electronic creation devices to form a palette of other-worldly custom electronic sounds for the film.

Oliver was a wild child of the ’60s, so Keane included some rock ‘n’ roll — much like he played as a guitarist in Charlie Karp’s Reunion Band.

Keane scored the main theme as a waltz, for a sense of quirkiness. The melody is simple, full of wonder. It’s accompanied by the Tibetan Bells, to give a deeper sense of cutting-edge discovery, and is supported by a chamber orchestra.

The other main theme was “compassionate,” Keane says. It opens with a single note, then widens the intervals to large leaps, amplifying the emotional empathy.

Elsewhere, he says, the score simply needed to connect what was being said or felt to a deeper meaning. That’s exemplified in the credit music: a simple piano figure with chamber orchestra, and bowed metal creating eerie sounds in “a heartbreakingly beautiful, wistfully ethereal and poignant way.”

Intrigued? Click here to listen to the score. Click below, for the official trailer.

Then mark your calendar for September 23, and the release of the fascinating (and musically compelling) “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.”

 

Paint The Town Yellow — Again!

Last fall, Debra Kandrak had an idea.

She wanted everyone in town to plant daffodils.

“Imagine driving through Westport and seeing thousands of daffodils around mailboxes, on the roadside, in front of stores,” she said. “It would be so pretty. And they can be in honor of loved ones, so they’re even more meaningful.”

She got commercial landlord David Waldman on board. Laurelrock and Northeast Horticulture, which maintain several traffic islands, joined in. So did the Westport Garden Club, town officials, businesses, and plenty of random Westporters.

A collage of daffodils.

As she drove around last spring — when the town was laid low by the coronavirus — Debra was heartened to see thousands of new daffodils.

The residents on Soundview Drive had planted hundreds of beautiful flowers along the beach exit road. Project Return planted them in front of their North Compo shelter. They sprouted in front of The Learning Community School on Hillspoint Road, at the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, and at dozens of other spots, both public and private.

The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown.

Now, Debra announced the 2nd annual “Paint the Town Yellow” campaign. This year’s theme: Every daffodil represents a stand against bullying.

“Bullying destroys lives,” Debra says. “It chips away at someone’s self-esteem. As you plant flowers with your children, teach them empathy, not excess.

“Our country is in turmoil. Let Westport, show the world that we practice kindness, compassion and empathy. We can do this!”

Debra asks residents, committees, businesses and the town of Westport to plant daffodils “in front of your home, around the mailbox post, by street signs, at your store or office — everywhere!”

She would love to see schools get involved. (Parents can donate daffodils, she suggests).

Sherwood Island Connector, at the Post Road. (Photos courtesy of Debra Kandrak)

Last spring, when we desperately needed to be uplifted, daffodils did the trick. No one knows what this spring will bring.

Except many more daffodils.

(To contact Debra directly, email Debra.Kandrak@raveis.com)

Christie’s Porch

For nearly a century, the front porch of Christie’s Country Store helped anchor its Cross Highway neighborhood.

Christie Masiello and her nephew Don ran the farm stand/market — which opened in 1926 — for almost 7 decades. Several owners followed, serving residents, kids, contractors, and everyone in between.

Since January though — when Chef’s Table closed — the porch has been quiet.

Life returns this spring.

“The Porch at Christie’s” is the name new owners Bill and Andrea Pecoriello have chosen for the venerable space. It’s a nod to the storied past, and a welcome addition to the area.

But the couple will serve much more than breakfast, lunch, pastries, soups, salads and prepared meals. By hiring people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, they’ll provide job training, income, social interaction, life skills coaching, and opportunities for personal growth to that often underserved population.

Andrea and Bill Pecoriello.

This is not the Pecoriellos’ first such venture. Last year — inspired by their own 3 children’s volunteer efforts with a boy with disabilities — they founded Sweet P.

Seven students and 2 chefs operated the non-profit bakery out of a Norwalk commercial kitchen until March, when COVID struck.

The chefs stayed through June, making granola for frontline workers and food pantries. In-person, socially distanced baking classes are set to resume this month, along with another class they run sponsored by STAR Lighting the Way.

The Porch at Christie’s will go much further than the bakery (which will supply some of the goods sold there). Interacting with customers, employees can learn front-of-the-house skills.

The Pecoriellos also wanted to do something for Westport — the town they’ve lived in for nearly 26 years. They envision The Porch as a community gathering spot. “We want to be very inclusive,” they say, bringing together the neighborhood and employees.

They’ll do it with breakfast burritos, muffins and granola (and a more “brunch-y” menu on weekends); coffee, tea and smoothies; lunches; prepared meals to go; salads, paninis and flatbreads.

They’ll sell crackers and jams for picnics, gift baskets — and milk, eggs and cheese, products neighbors have long clamored for. Catering will be available too.

The couple is also excited to bring back the former Frosty Bear ice cream hut. They’re scouting out top local dairy farms to supply it, and will run a contest to pick its name.

The Frosty Bear ice cream stand will reopen, with a new name.

The Pecoriellos are searching too for the best Connecticut coffee roasters.

The Porch at Christie’s will be open 7 days a week, starting at 7 a.m. It will be “very COVID-friendly,” the Pecoriellos says, with curbside pick-up and takeout.

They hope to have a permit for lawn seating. Of course, they’ll have tables on the porch (alongside a new ADA-compliant ramp).

The interior will be refurbished with a “modern farmhouse” look. The target date for opening is March.

“We have a great relationship with our landlord, Tim Purcell,” says Bill Pecoriello. “He knows how important this is for the neighborhood.”

That “neighborhood” extends far beyond Cross Highway residents. It includes construction and lawn workers; parents and athletes at Wakeman Field, and students and teachers at Bedford Middle and Staples High School.

The new owners also hope for a partnership with Wakeman Town Farm, a few hundred yards away.

Next spring, the porch at The Porch at Christie’s will again be open.

Bill and Andrea Pecoriello seem to have thought of everything. They’re even buying a generator, to serve the neighborhood during power outages.

“We’ll have ice and everything else. Including WiFi,” they say.

So when the next blizzard passes, or another storm blows away, you can eat, drink and do your work at — and on — The Porch at Christie’s.

(The Pecoriellos want to hear suggestions and ideas. Email info@theporchatchristies.com.)

Wildfires Consume West; Westporters Help

Westport Fire Chief Robert Yost is used to the hundreds of calls his department handles: house fires, accidents on I-95 and the Merritt, false alarms.

As the town’s director of emergency management, he plans for and coordinates responses to hurricanes, blizzards and, now, a virus pandemic.

But he’s a professional. And as millions of acres burn out west, he and Deputy Chief Michael Kronick answered the call.

Westport Fire Chief Robert Yost, as a medical assistant in Colorado.

The pair are members of the Connecticut Interstate Wildfire Crew. It’s our contribution to a national mutual aid pact. Members help states on an as-needed basis, with any kind of weather event.

(And yes, Yost says, Connecticut has wildfires. The most recent were around 1940.)

This summer, Connecticut sent firefighters to several western states. Yost — who was posted to Idaho and Wyoming in 2016, and Montana in 2018 — went this year to Colorado, as a medical assistant.

Assistant Chief Kronick also served before, in California and Colorado.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael Kronick in Colorado, 2 years ago.

Yost got the call this year at 11 p.m., on a Saturday. The next day, he was on a plane to Ft. Collins. The 100,oo0-plus acre Cameron Peak fire threatened homes, and the University of Colorado mountain campus. It is still only 4% contained.

Yost and his crew set up structure protection. They ran hoses and pumps, wrapped homes in preventive material, bulldozed lines and started back fires.

It’s nothing like fighting a Westport fire. “This is a long game, and a logistics war,”” Yost says. Feeding and supplying 1,000 firefighters takes as much coordination as the actual firefighting.

COVID complicated everything, of course. Rather than one central camp, firefighters were deployed to “spike” camps that reduced co-mingling.

For Yost, the opportunity to observe incident management was important too. He sat in on planning meetings, with the command staff. The insights he gained will serve him well in planning for, and reacting to, disasters here, he says.

Whatever they are.

No, those are not clouds. They’re part of Colorado’s Cameron Peak fire.

Roundup: Woodstock, Teachers, Movies, Music, More


Last week, Peter Gambaccini saw that TCM was running the director’s cut of “Woodstock.”

Peter was there in the Catskills hills, 51 years ago this month. Now in his early 70s, he was not ready to sit through all those hours of music and more (particularly not Ten Years After).

But he tried to time it so that he’d tune in to see some of the Westporters he knew were there (though he never saw them “live”).

In a segment showing people sliding through the mud after a torrential rain, he suddenly spotted Bill Davidson. He was a Staples High School hockey star, and drummer with local bands.

In the movie, Bill had a line about what a “mess” the hillside was. Peter had not seen him in the movie before, so he guesses that was part of the expanded version.

Then — after a brief bit of other business — Pete Krieg and Peter Cannon came into view. Cannon flashed the peace sign at the camera.

They were so close in the footage to Davidson, Gambaccini assumed they’d all gone to Woodstock together.

Nope.

In a Facebook discussion about another musical topic on Facebook, Gambaccini asked Krieg about the weekend. He said:

“I’ve gotten close to Bill in the past 10 years, since he’s the head bartender at Aspetuck Club. It was just last year (50 years later) that we realized we were 20 yards/60 seconds apart on that road, at that moment, at Woodstock.”

Far out!


Phaedra Taft — science coach at Greens Farms and Long Lots Elementary Schools — has received the Connecticut Science Teachers Association award for “Excellence in Elementary Science Teaching 2020.” 

During her 12 years in the Westport schools, Taft has been a leader in the development and implementation of the elementary school science curriculum. She has also played an instrumental role in leading the District’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards

In other education news, 2 Westport teachers — Staples High School’s Suzanne Kammerman and Courtney Ruggiero of Bedford Middle School — were featured on a Channel 8 story about teaching 9/11 to today’s students. Click here to see.

Phaedra Taft


The Artists Collective of Westport is helping another arts group: the Remarkable Theater.

They’re collaborating on Thursday’s drive-in movie. “Best in Show” — a biting satire about dog shows — will be shown September 17 at 8 p.m. at the Imperial Avenue parking lot. The gate opens at 7.

Tickets are $50 per car. Click here to reserve.


Westport’s Suzuki Music School is beefing up its presence. New Visiting Artist courses have been added, with Grammy Award-winning instructors like percussionist Joe McCarthy, and subjects including the history of jazz, movie soundtrack composition amd contemporary fiddling.

Suzuki is also streaming more free public events, with jazz pianist Sumi Tonooka and cellist Matt Haimovitz and more. The popular children’s Pillow Concert series continues online, and the Connecticut Guitar Festival returns for a 4th year (virtually this time).

Suzuki’s season kicks off this Sunday (September 20) with a master class by Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich. Click here for tickets to that class; click here for an overview of events.


And finally … since we’re honoring Woodstock (above), here’s a “trip” down memory lane. In deference to Peter Gambaccini, it’s not Ten Years After. It’s Bert Sommer. He was accompanied at Woodstock by local resident Ira Stone. If you’ve never heard of them — or at least didn’t know they were at Woodstock — well, they never made it off the film’s cutting room floor. NOTE: The Woodstock recording is poor. I’ve also included a studio version (I’m not sure if it includes Ira).

 

 

All That Jazz: Wynton Marsalis Plays In Westport

Earlier this month, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Alexa Tarantino Quartet performed at MoCA Westport.

The outdoor concert — properly socially distanced, of course — was sold out, and well received.

Turns out, it was just a warm-up act.

On October 2, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet with Wynton Marsalis comes to town. The world-renowned trumpeter and composer — the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center — is the only artist to win classical and jazz Grammys in the same year. And he’s done it twice.

The Septet’s program — “The Sound of Democracy” — features new music, played in Connecticut for the first time.

Tickets are on sale now (click here). Proceeds support the museum, and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Wynton Marsalis (Photo/Piper Ferguson)