Category Archives: People

Pegeen Gaherin: “Getting Past Madness”

After all these years, my long-ago High Point Road neighbor Pegeen Gaherin remembers many details about our youth.

The gang of kids riding bikes everywhere. Pool-hopping at night. She even recalls my dog’s name: Taffy.

After graduating from Staples High School in 1972, Pegeen remembers fun times waitressing at Viva Zapata, and partying to great music at Players’ Tavern.

But there were darker moments too. Suddenly in 1977, her world crashed down. Manic depression struck. Pegeen’s life has never been the same.

“One day the sun was out. The next day I felt as if the shades were drawn shut, without a glimmer of light peeking through,” she says.

Pegeen Gaherin today.

Her first onset of depression lasted 4 months, followed by a long manic episode laced with heavy drug use.

After a major psychotic break in Hawaii, she worked hard to regain her life. She moved in with her parents on Cape Cod.

“I couldn’t even tie my shoes,” Pegeen says. “My mother nursed me back to health.”

(Her father, John Gaherin, was a well-known negotiator. He represented New York newspaper publishers and Major League Baseball owners in the 1960’s and 70’s, and helped write baseball’s first labor contracts and pension plan.)

A year later, Pegeen felt better. As is sometimes the case with mental illness, she stopped taking medication. She began drinking a bit, and smoking some weed.

Another psychotic break in Miami followed. She pulled herself together again. She took classes at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, but another major dissociative episode followed, in Cambridge.

After trying to work in New York, and living again with her parents on the Cape, Pegeen moved back to Westport. Once again, she drank.

Alcohol and manic depression form a lethal combination. “I knew they’d be fatal,” she says. “I’d end up as a Jane Doe.”

In 1987 she found AA. She’s been sober — “one day at a time” — ever since.

“Medication clears up my mental illness,” Pegeen notes. “But I had to learn to live again. AA gave me that.”

She loved her Westport AA group. Yet when she moved back to Cape Cod in 2003, her experience was different.

They said, “you’re not sober if you’re taking meds. They shunned me.” She is grateful these days for Westport’s AA meetings, which she attends via Zoom. She is grateful too for lithium, which she calls “a miracle drug.”

While still living here in 1998, she took a writing class with David Wiltse. She hung out with a group of writers, who encouraged her to tell her story.

It was not easy. The stigma of mental illness is strong. “Coming out against AA is countercultural” too, she notes.

She finished her book in 2010. But she held on to it for a decade. Over the past few months, she felt compelled to publish.

The other day, “Getting Past Madness: A Young Woman’s Journey from Mental Illness to Mental Health” was published. (Her author’s nom de plume, Pegeen Keenan-O’Brien, is a combination of her 2 grandmothers’ names.)

Pegeen says, “I wanted to stop the judgment that often comes with mental illness. Even in the most healing of environments, there is far less understanding than I would like to see.

“I told my story the best way I could. I’m so glad I started it so long ago. If I can help just one person, that would be great.”

(To order “Getting Past Madness,” and for more information, click here. Hat tip: Kathleen Kiley)

Staples Baseball Ends “Season” In Style

The 2020 Staples High School baseball team could not defend its ’19 state and FCIAC championships — because there was no ’20 season. COVID-19 knocked out all spring sports in the state.

But the Wrecker coaches and Diamond Club boosters found a way to honor the athletes who would have played.

Yesterday, they held a traditional “Senior Day” in a very non-traditional way.

Family members lined the field — masked and socially distanced, of course.

A guest speaker — Staples alum Dave Ruden, publisher of the all-FCIAC, all-the-time sports site The Ruden Report — praised the players and the program.

Dave Ruden addresses the crowd.

Coach Jack McFarland presented the school’s 2 highest awards — Block “S” trophies — to well-deserving recipients.

Most Valuable Player honors went to all the seniors.

And the Coaches’ Award was presented to longtime manager/superfan/ inspiration Dylan Curran. He gave a gracious speech, thanking each coach and every player for always including him and making him feel a part of the team.

He promised he would always come back to cheer Staples on, from his next destination: Sacred Heart University.

Dylan Curran (Photos/Chris Greer)

The day ended with the unveiling of a plaque. It noted that the Wreckers were ranked #31 in a national pre-season poll. We’ll never know where they would have ended up, if they had actually played games.

It wasn’t the Senior Day any of the Wreckers — or their friends and families — dreamed of.

But considering the coronavirus circumstances, it was a grand slam.

“Golden State Killer” Pleads Guilty; 1 Victim Was Westporter

Yesterday in Sacramento, Joseph James DeAngelo admitted he was the “Golden State Killer.”

The former police officer pleaded guilty to 4 murders and 2 rapes. They’re the first of an expected confessions of 13 murders and nearly 50 rapes, committed across California between 1975 and ’88.

Among the victims he confessed to yesterday: 1962 Staples High School graduate Debra Manning.

Debra Manning

At the hearing, a Santa Barbara County deputy district attorney described how in 1979 DeAngelo broke into a Goleta home shared by Manning and her boyfriend, osteopathic surgeon Dr. Robert Offerman. She recounted in grim detail the crimes that ensued.

Manning’s murder was included in Michelle McNamara’s 2018 best-seller “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.” A 6-part HBO series based on the book premiered on Sunday.

DeAngelo faces 11 consecutive life sentences for the killings, and 15 concurrent ones for kidnapping.

David Pogue’s CritterCam

David Pogue is an Emmy-winning tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American) and TV correspondent (“CBS Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”).

David Pogue at work in Westport, long before the coronavirus.

Yet in many ways he’s just another Westport homeowner. Every once in a while he tosses food scraps onto the yard. He figures some hungry critters will appreciate them.

Every morning, they’re gone.

His inquisitive mind wonders: Who — or what — eats them so promptly?

With a bit of time during the lockdown, he finally indulged his curiosity. On Amazon he discovered motion-triggered night-vision cameras (aka trail cameras).

The other night, he set one up. To test his visitors’ intelligence, Pogue put some corn cob pieces and stale bread under a mixing bowl, held down with a piece of slate.

The next morning he retrieved the memory card from the camera. He was amazed by both the number and variety of creatures who stopped by. He had no idea most of them lived nearby.

Being David Pogue, he edited the 12 species into a montage. Click below (if you dare):

Pogue says, “I’m aware that it’s not a great idea to leave food out for wild animals. Human food is ‘junk food’ for them, and we also don’t want them to become dependent.

“‘06880’ readers can rest assured that our food-tossing is an occasional experiment, not a regular practice.”

Pogue also knows that many Westporters are alarmed to see wildlife in their midst.

“I guess I’m a little different that way,” he says.

“I’m thrilled to know that despite our intrusion into their territory, so many native species still thrive, with their own active routines, as we lie asleep at night.”

Obi Ndefo And Jamie Mann’s Joyful Virtual Cabaret

Obi Ndefo is an actor and screenwriter. He’s been in “Dawson’s Creek,” “Star Trek” and “The West Wing.” A Nigerian-American Jew, he founded Arts Alliance for Humanity, bringing artists together from around the world to unite and uplift the planet.

Last summer, while loading groceries into his trunk in Los Angeles, he was hit by a drunk driver. He lost both legs, but remained tremendously positive and determined. Nine weeks later he was back teaching yoga to special needs youngsters, and taking on new acting, writing and directing roles.

Obi believes things happen “for him,” not “to him.”

Jamie Mann is a rising senior at Staples High School. A very talented dancer, actor and singer, his credits include “Billy Elliot” (national tour), “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” with New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey at the Apollo Theater, “Because of Winn Dixie” (Goodspeed Opera House), and numerous Staples Players shows.

A few months ago, Jamie was in Hollywood filming Netflix’s new musical show “Country Comfort.” Suddenly COVID-19 struck, and production stopped.

Obi Ndefo

Obi and Jamie’s dad were friends from their Yale University days. Jamie had heard stories about what a great actor and singer he was.

While running in his Silver Lake neighborhood, Jamie saw Obi doing 1-hand pushups in his driveway. Suddenly, his father’s stories about Obi and his inspiring personality came to life.

When he learned that Obi had a GoFundMe page for new prosthetic legs, and to cover medical costs, Jamie decided to help.

He contacted “Country Comfort” cast mates (and Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block, father of one of them). He asked for videos of their performances.

Then he reached out to other actors and performers across the country. Among the many who helped, Josie Todd submitted a touching song and message to Obi; her brother has special needs.

Analise Scarpaci — who Jamie idolized, and is in “Mrs. Doubtfire” on Broadway — sang a very moving “Somewhere.”

Obi’s friend Gina Belafonte — Harry’s daughter — provided a tremendous tune. Chazz Palminteri got involved too.

Jamie also got great content from Obi’s a cappella friends from Yale.

Jamie Mann (Photo/Tomira Wilcox)

Jamie’s mom, Jill Johnson Mann, began turning it all into a livestream. She asked a friend for help.

He’s a huge “Stargate” fan — Obi was a series regular — and when he heard about the accident, he was honored to lend a hand.

The result is a fantastic “virtual cabaret.” It airs tomorrow (Tuesday, June 30, 7:30 p.m.) on Jamie’s YouTube channel (click here) and Jill’s Facebook page (click here).

“This is about more than one man, known for his kindness, undying optimism and activism,” Jamie says.

“It’s about the positive attitude and resilience we all need to overcome the challenges of the uncertain era we’re in. From Obi’s wisdom and a peek into his new TV project, to songs from Broadway stars and exciting newcomers — my friends, cast mates, Obi’s friends and others — this will be a great cabaret.”

Viewers will be able to donate to Obi’s GoFundMe page (you can do so right now too; click here.)

“Let’s change his life, so he can keep inspiring all of us,” Jamie says.

Westport Playhouse: A Look Back At 90 Seasons

Today should have been a red-letter day in Westport Country Playhouse history.

The former cow barn opened its doors — and ushered in a golden era of summer theater — on June 29, 1931. Ever since last year, the Playhouse had prepared for a landmark 90th season.

COVID canceled those plans. But “06880” — the blog and the town — can still celebrate.

The building is actually twice as old as the theater. It was built in 1835 by R&H Haight, as a tannery for hatters’ leathers. Apple trees grew nearby.

In 1860 Charles H. Kemper purchased the plant from Henry Haight’s widow.

Kemper tannery, 1860.

Twenty years later, he installed a steam-powered cider mill.

By the winter of 1930, the property — assessed at $14,000 — had been unused for several years. It was bought by Weston residents Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall Langner, co-founders of the Theatre Guild, a powerful producer of Broadway and touring productions.

The 1930 barn.

The Langners wanted a place to experiment with new plays, and reinterpret old ones. Westport was already home to actors, producers and directors.

On June 29, 1931, the Westport Country Playhouse opened. The very first play — The Streets of New York — starred Dorothy Gish. Its stage was built to Broadway specifications. Remarkably, that first show made it all the way there.

Westport Country Playhouse interior, 1933.

Bert Lahr, Eva LaGallienne, Paul Robeson, Helen Hayes, Ethel Barrymore, Henry Fonda, Tallulah Bankhead and Julie Harris were some of the many big names who appeared on the Playhouse stage.

The early days (Photo/Wells Studio)

The theater went dark for 4 years during World War II, due to gas rationing.

Thornton Wilder received his Equity card in 1946, so he could play the stage manager in his own hit, Our Town.

In the 1940s, the Playhouse began an apprentice program. The legendary list includes Stephen Sondheim, Frank Perry and Sally Jesse Raphael. The educational apprenticeship programs are still running.

An early shot of the Westport Country Playhouse.

Though Oklahoma! has never been performed at the theater, it played a key role in the legendary show’s history. In 1940, Richard Rodgers came from his Fairfield home for Green Grow the Lilacs. Three years later, he produced Oklahoma!, based on what he’d seen.

Roders also saw Gene Kelly that night at Lilacs, and a few months later gave him his big break: the lead in Pal Joey.

In 1959 the Langners turned operation of the Playhouse over to Jim McKenzie. Later named executive producer, he retired in 2000 after 41 years. His tenure was notable for many things — including his efforts in 1985 to purchase the theater and its property, thwarting a takeover by a shopping center complex.

Gloria Swanson arrives, 1961.

Appearing on stage during McKenzie’s time were stars like Alan Alda, Cicely Tyson, Richard Thomas, Jane Powell, Sandy Dennis, and Stiller and Meara.

A teenager earned her Equity card, and earned a standing ovation on opening night in The Fantasticks. Her name was Liza Minnelli.

Prior to renovation, the cramped lobby was filled with posters from past shows.

In 2000, artistic director Joanne Woodward joined an illustrious team including Anne Keefe, Alison Harris and Elisabeth Morten. They brought Gene Wilder, Richard Dreyfuss, Jill Clayburgh and Jane Curtin to the stage.

Woodward’s husband — Paul Newman — also starred at the Playhouse, in the same role Thornton Wilder played 56 years earlier: stage manager, in Our Town. 

Like so many other Playhouse shows, it (with Newman) soon transferred to Broadway.

But the building — still basically a 170-year-old barn — was in physical disrepair.Woodward and company also renovated the Playhouse physically, and revitalized it artistically.

An 18-month, $30.6 million renovation project in 2003 and ’04 brought the Playhouse into the modern era. It closed in 2003 with a revival of its first show, The Streets of New York.

It reopened in 2005 — its 75th season. At Woodward’s suggestion, a piece of the original stage is still there. The Playhouse moved forward, while paying homage to its storied past.

Westport Country Playhouse, after renovation.

The next year saw the world premiere of Thurgood. Since then — under artistic directors Tazewell Thompson and now Mark Lamos — the Westport Country Playhouse has expanded both its scope and its season.

From a tryout and summer stock house focusing mostly on light, entertaining comedies, to its current April-through-November staging of powerful dramas, musicals and exploratory plays, the Westport Country Playhouse has played a key role in American theater.

Several years ago, Lamos noted, “What had a been a leaky, vermin-infested, un-weatherized — albeit beloved — converted barn became a state-of-the-art theater as fine as any in America.”

Like Broadway, the Westport Country Playhouse is closed during this, its 90th season.

But — as its long history shows — the old barn has weathered many ups, and  a few downs. The curtain will rise again next year.

The show must go on!

(Hat tip: Pat Blaufuss)

(Photo/Robert Benson)

Remembering Garry Meyers

Longtime Westport educator Garry Meyers died peacefully at his Stratford home on June 11, surrounded by family. He was 89 years old.

The Bridgeport native was a teacher, a storyteller, and a marriage and family therapist. After graduating from Warren Harding High School in 1948, Garry headed to Dartmouth College. He earned a Phi Beta Kappa key, and graduated magna cum laude in 1952.

After serving in the Korean War, Garry earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Bridgeport on the GI Bill. He taught English at Staples High School for many years, and was a principal of the firm Tape Book, before creating the first public high school special education program for emotionally disturbed adolescents in the state of Connecticut.

Garry Meyers

The gratification Garry experienced as he developed this safe place for “the kids” spurred him to devote his professional life to helping more children and families. He pursued a master’s in marriage and family therapy from Southern Connecticut State University, becoming a licensed MFT in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Whether in line at the hardware store or traveling to Russia, Garry often made new friends. He had an agile, insatiable mind; an irreverent, irresistible sense of humor, and a genuine interest in everyone he met. His life was a celebration of the people he loved, the places he and Donna visited, and the stories that grew from these experiences.

During their years together, Garry and Donna called many places home, including Westport, Redding Sandy Hook and Stratford; Astoria, New York, and Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.

In their home on Martha’s Vineyard, Garry and Donna created a haven for family and friends. It was especially cherished by Garry’s 17 grandchildren.

Garry is survived by his wife of 51 years, Donna Rae Hitt Meyers for 51 years; his children Liese Meyers Niedermayer, Jennifer Meyers (Mark), Adam Meyers (Ingrid), Melissa Fable Dempsey, Kimberly Fable, and Chaz Fable (Valeria). Garry was predeceased by his youngest daughter, Rebekah Meyers Aronson. He is also survived by his grandchildren Bryan, Erich, Stephanie, Randi, Jessica, Daniel, Jacqueline, Kristen, Alexandra, Matthew, Teddy, Olivia, David, Kiona, Julie Rae, Julian, and Julia.

A celebration of Garry’s life will be held later.

Memorial contributions in his memory may be made to The Trevor Project or the Center for Spectrum Services. 

Johnny Was: The Why Behind New Westport Store

Growing up, Rob Trauber spent only a couple of years in Westport.

But the town made enough of an impression on him that — more than 40 years later — he decided to open a new store here.

That’s significant. Trauber is not some fledgling shopkeeper. He’s the CEO of Johnny Was.

This Friday (July 3), the 56th store in the women’s California-inspired, women’s clothing and accessories chain debuts at 81 Main Street. It’s the first Johnny Was in Connecticut.

And Trauber’s 1970s youth has a lot to do with this location.

Rob Trauber

The former Kings Highway Elementary School student has fond memories of the riding his bike around town, and taking the minnybus to Longshore and Compo. He bought candy at Carmine’s smoke shop. He remembers those Jimmy Carter-era days as if they were yesterday.

Sure, Trauber’s family moved from Westport long ago. But he has retained his ties. Eight years ago, he built a house on Sturges. His brother-in-law lives here now, as does one of his best friends.

Johnny Was’ collections — one-of-a-kind kimonos, swimwear, denim jackets, pants, blouses and pajamas, along with jewelry, shoes and handbags — are in upscale places like Southampton, Boca Raton and Carmel.

Trauber has wanted to open in Westport. Yet until recently, he says, “rents were out of whack compared to volumes.”

Then a great space opened up, just past Lululemon. “It’s the right street, and the right area of the street,” he says.

Trauber lives now in San Marino. “It’s the closest thing in Los Angeles to Westport,” he says. “The people remind me of Westport.” There are even “East Coast trees,” like 100-foot oaks.

 

Though the retail world has shifted dramatically in recent years, Trauber — who worked for J. Crew when the Westport location was one of its top 5 in the nation — believes firmly in downtown.

The new home of Johnny Was. Opening day is next Friday.

“The irrelevant retailers are gone,” he says. “There’s a place for aspirational, luxury brands that have the feel of boutiques. Customers love to touch and feel things, try them on.”

His neighbors — like one of Anthropologie’s biggest stores, and Serena & Lily — are the types of places Johnny Was enjoys being near.

On his most recent trip “home,” Trauber drove by his old home near Cranbury Road. He put his daughters on a bench overlooking the pond he often skated on. Everything felt right.

Rob Trauber’s daughters Austin and Taylor, at his old Westport pond. They’re the same age now as he was then.

His California executives are not traveling now, due to COVID-19. So the Manhattan-based team (and Trauber’s brother-in-law) will represent him at the July 3 opening.

He’ll miss seeing the bright murals, tile floor, reclaimed wood tables and bronze hardware. But he promises to be here soon.

Until then, he’s doing one special thing for Westport.

When he rode his bike into town for candy, Trauber sometimes did not have enough money. Carmine let him buy it “on account,” or gave it to him free.

To pay homage, for a limited time Johnny Was will provide free vintage candy to customers.

The Westport location has not even opened. But already we’re way cooler than Southampton, Boca Raton and Carmel.

BONUS FACTOID: The name of the chain comes from an old Bob Marley song, “Johnny Was a Good Man.”

Roundup: Beach, Pool, Golf And Tennis News; #ILoveWestport; Lucky Grad; Fireworks; More


Here’s the latest update from Westport Parks & Rec:

Starting Wednesday, July 1, lifeguards will staff Compo and Burying Hill beaches from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All regular beach rules will be enforced, in addition to all COVID-19 rules. Boogie boards and skim boards are permitted.

The Longshore pools will remain closed, due to state restrictions and limited staffing resources.

Parks and Rec director Jennifer Fava says her department “will continue to monitor the guidance from the state, Should restrictions ease, and we can staff appropriately, we will reevaluate the possibility of opening the pool complex.”

Starting tomorrow (Saturday, June 27), 2 players may share a golf cart. Both must wear face coverings in the cart, and the same person must drive the cart the entire time. Exception: members of the same household are not required to wear face covering in a cart, and valid drivers may alternate.

Also starting tomorrow, all tennis courts at Longshore, Staples High School, Town Farm and Doubleday (behind Saugatuck School) are open for both singles and doubles play. All platform tennis and pickleball courts are open for singles and doubles too.


During the lockdown, town officials emphasized: “We’re all in this together.”

That’s the message during reopening too. To drive it home, they asked a variety of people to make personal promises for keeping everyone healthy.

Anthony John Rinaldi taped those promises. He’s making them into a series of videos, all tagged #ILoveWestport.

In the first one, restaurant owner Bill Taibe promises to keep cooking. Farmers’ Market director Lori McDougall promises to support local vendors. Police Chief Foti Koskinas promises to keep Westporters safe.

There are more too, in this quick video — including a special “06880” appearance. Click below to see.


Like many Westporters, Serkan Elden kept his “Proud Family of 2020 Staples High School Graduate” sign up, even after the ceremony 2 weeks ago. He is justifiably proud of his daughter Deniz, a great member of the senior class that went through so much this year.

Someone else is proud too.

The other day Deniz found an envelope in the Eldens’ mailbox. It was addressed simply: “The Graduate.”

Inside she found a note: “Congratulations 2020! Hope this is a Winner! Good Luck. From, Anonymous Lyons Plain Rd. Neighbor.”

Attached was a Double Match lottery scratch card.

She did not win. 😦 But odds are good that this is a gift Deniz will remember long after the coronavirus is history.


If you missed last weekend’s “Stand Up (At Home) for Homes with Hope” comedy show — no problem.

An encore presentation is set for Wednesday (July 1, 8 p.m.). Four very funny comedians joined Staples grad/noted songwriter Justin Paul for a wonderful hour of entertainment.

Click here to register. And if you saw the show the first time around, you’ll receive an automatic link to watch again.


 

There are no 4th of July fireworks at Compo Beach this year.

And, the Westport Fire Department warns, there should be none anywhere in town.

The note that all fireworks are illegal in Connecticut, expect sparklers and fountains.

Also illegal: items like party poppers, snakes, smoke devices, sky lanterns and anything that emits a flame. Possessing or exploding illegal devices could result in a fine or jail.

Note too: Extremely dry conditions make it easy for fireworks, sparklers and fountains to cause brush fires.


And finally … as other states find themselves in the same situation Connecticut was in 2 months ago, we here are thinking of our friends around the nation.

Friday Flashback #198

Had it not been for COVID-19, tomorrow would have been jUNe Day here. Dozens of United Nations guests would have enjoyed a day in Westport — including an impressive display of flags from their native countries on the Post Road bridge.

jUNe Day 2015, on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. (Photo/Jeff Simon)

That’s the same bridge where, earlier this month, hundreds of people massed in support of Black Lives Matter, and to protest the death of George Floyd. 

The 2 events are related. The Post Road bridge — with both its flags, and its role as the cherished spot for political demonstrations — is named in honor of Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. A remarkable Westporter (and former secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt), she dedicated her life to social justice, world peace — and music. 

The scene on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, several years ago.

With jUNe Day canceled, and political protests fresh in our minds, it’s time to learn a bit more about Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. Staples High School Class of 1981 graduate Laurie Cameron writes:

Back in the day I met a true Westport treasure: my piano teacher, Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen. She would have been 100 on June 8. She was also the grandmother of my friend and classmate Adam Weisman.

Ruth was a generous, warm person who made music and kindness. Learning piano from her was a great education; she made sure I knew Hadyn, Chopin, Brahms and Vivaldi in addition to Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. I learned about Vienna and the Music festival from her.

My brother Byl was the musician in our family. I had no gift for music, but I returned each week for almost 9 years. I was so fascinated by her travels, her art, her bookcase, her antique harpsichord, and hearing about the many jobs she had when she was not being a piano teacher.

My favorite time of the week was the hour that I waited for my brother Andy to finish his piano lesson, when I could stare at the paintings, books and sculptures in Mrs. Cohen’s living room.

Her colorful holiday parties were also our piano recitals. After each student performed, Ruth and her husband Herbert played a duet: she on the piano, he on violin. Their music was rich and melodious, but the joy on their faces was the true lesson for us.

Sometimes when Ruth could see me growing restless at the piano, she took me for a walk in her garden. It had a brick path that looked like the yellow brick road through the woods behind her house. It was so thrilling to me that I sometimes snuck out while waiting for Andy’s lesson to end, and ran down its wooden steps.

Ruth Steinkraus Cohen (center) joins famed singer Marian Anderson (2nd from left) at a concert by young Suzanne Sherman, at Bedford Elementary School.

During her time running the UN Hospitality Committee, Ruth placed over 50,000 people into American homes for cultural exchanges. My family learned about habits and traditions of people from other cultures from those we hosted, thanks to Ruth. She was a great humanitarian with a desire to bring the world together, and bridge gaps between cultures.

When I came back to Westport after being away for over 15 years, visiting Ruth was an important stop for me. Even in her late 70s she was warm, joyful and busy making the world better for those who needed it.

I feel privileged to have known Ruth and to have learned so much from her. Her knowledge, openness, love of music, energy and patience were great sources of inspiration to me. She would be so proud to know that a bridge bearing her name is used to support people fighting for peace, civil rights and equal justice.

(To learn more about Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, click here for her New York Times obituary.)