Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #261

An 88-year-old “06880” reader writes: 

Recently, I have been the recipient of numerous acts of kindness and courtesy as I go about errands in Westport.

I am petite, silver haired, with some mobility issues. I very likely appear fragile,

Thus far, I haven’t needed assistance. However, the young people — men and women who seem in their 30s — who care enough to stop and offer their help are very much appreciated.

On one occasion, I had a conversation with a woman who thought of her mother when she saw me.

This is not the writer. But help is always appreciated.

Men are more inclined to hold doors, and to advance me when waiting in line for service. Others may offer pleasantries or a compliment.

All of these seemingly small things prove a generous spirit at work. 

It is challenging to maintain independence. But it is of comfort to know there are aware people out there who wish to support and help

These people are a grace note in our town.

I want to acknowledge them, and offer my gratitude to all who have offered their help. My hope is that this good will grows in all our communities,

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Unsung Heroes #260

Last Friday was tough.

Phone calls from a demented human being to police departments around the state — while many were honoring 2 slain officers at a Rentschler Field ceremony — forced high-level security measures.

At Staples High School, nearly 2,000 students and scores of staff members went into lockdown. At nearby Bedford Middle School, a “shelter in place” order was given.

Nearly an hour after Staples High School went into lockdown Friday morning, an ambulance and police car sat outside the building. (Photo/Jim Honeycutt)

Officials — rightly — erred on the side of caution. Before the lockdown was lifted, armed officers checked every room.

With police weapons visible to students and staff, superintendent of school Thomas Scarice asked teachers were to focus the rest of the day on the social/emotional needs of students. Emotional support was available for anyone who needed it.

Welcome to America, 2022.

That afternoon, longtime Westporter (and Staples High School graduate) Stacie Curran wrote:

“Once again (and sadly), please publicly recognize all of our teachers, staff, administrators, and our incredible police force for their attention, their dedication, their care and brave protection our children through this lockdown.”

Stacie is right. Scarice, his staff, and administrators at Staples and Bedford acted swiftly and decisively. Police officers were on the scene quickly. Working with Staples’ school resource officer, they believed soon that the call was a hoax.

Still, they made absolutely certain that the school was safe. Meanwhile, Westport’s Emergency Medical Services were on hand, standing by if needed.

The response and collaboration of all involved was impressive. As Stacie notes, we owe thanks to all of Friday’s Unsung Heroes, for keeping our community secure.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email 06880blog@gmail.com)

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Unsung Heroes #259

Several years ago, a company called Renovation Angel updated David Pogue’s 20-year-old kitchen. They did the demolition, hauling and cleanup — for free.

The Pogues got a tax deduction. Renovation Angel then resold the Pogues’ old kitchen, People renovating their ow kitchens got luxury items for a fraction of the price.

The best part: All those proceeds went to charity. Renovation Angel donates to programs for addiction recovery, at-risk children, job training and social entrepreneurship. You can read all about it here.

Recently, David and his wife Nicki wanted to update their main bedroom bathroom. Renovation Angel works only with kitchens. But David persevered — and has another great everyone-wins story.

Second Chance performs similar work with bathrooms. The non-profit “provides people, materials and the environment with a second chance.”

Second Chance arruves at the Pogues’ home …

They “deconstruct buildings and homes, salvage usable materials, and make those and other donated items available to the public for reuse” at a 200,000+ square foot retail center.

The revenue generated provides job training and workforce development for people with employment obstacles in the Baltimore area.

Pogue’s builder pulled out everything from the old bathroom — sinks, shower doors, toilet, cabinets, tub, etc. — and put it in the garage.

Second Chance sent a big truck and 8 big men to wrap, protect and load it all into a truck.

… and workers clear out bathroom equipment. (Photos/David Pogue)

Once again, it was a win for everyone. The Pogues gained a tax deduction and free hauling. Second Chance gained the opportunity to employ people who need the jobs. The people of Baltimore gained inexpensive building materials that gain a new life.

Landfill gained nothing.

Thank you, Second Chance, for giving a second chance to “people, materials and the environment.”

And thank you, David Pogue, for recognizing such a worthy Unsung Hero.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email 06880blog@gmail.com)

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Unsung Hero #258

Nearly 10 years ago — back in the pre-Unsung Hero days — I posted a story about Colonial Druggist and its wonderful owner, Russ Levine.

At that point, he and his ever-alert, always-helpful, constantly-go-the-extra-mile staff had been serving grateful customers for decades. They started in Colonial Green, then moved to the plaza near Fresh Market (and kept the name).

They’re still doing it. And Russ is still at the helm.

Alert “06880” reader John Karrel thinks it’s time to revisit Colonial Druggist — this time for an Unsung Hero award.

I couldn’t agree more.

Russ Levine, at his familiar spot. (Photo/John Karrel)

John writes:

“With the world ever more complex in 2022, there’s no let-up in Russell’s patience, the depth of his knowledge, his ceaseless good cheer and humor (not to mention his natty suspenders).

“Recently, I went in and asked if he could point me toward ear drops. ‘That depends,’ he said. After a dramatic pause: ‘Left ear or right ear?’”

“He and his superb staff seem to handle any kind of inquiry, whether face to face at the counter, or by phone (based on some conversations of which I hear one end).

“When I asked a long-time Westport friend her opinion of Colonial, she said, “‘The best pharmacy in the world.’”

No one who has walked in Colonial’s front door would disagree. So thank you, Russ and all your staff. You are true Unsung Heroes.

Here’s to many more years of helping whatever ails all of us. You never turn a deaf ear.

Left or right.

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Unsung Hero #257

Ellen Botwin’s parents have lived in the same Westport house since the 1970s. Her father turned 100 in June. Her mother is “21-plus.”

The other morning, Ellen’s mother called. Water was coming from upstairs, through the chandelier in the foyer.

Her dad had a stroke in 2018, and uses a walker. But his brilliant mind — he was senior vice president at Norden-United Technologies, and holds over 20 patents — still works.

He knew where the water came from, and tried to fix it. His wife worried he’d hurt himself, and called Ellen.

She lives an hour away, and does not know any Westport plumbers. In a panic she texted Rebecca, her parents’ next door neighbor. She gave Ellen the number for Pat Duffy.

Five minutes after Ellen’s message, Pat replied. She told him the problem. Immediately, he headed over.

An hour later, Pat texted back. The problem was fixed.

Ellen asked for the bill, and how he waned to be paid.

He said that his favorite uncle was named Leo — the same name as Ellen’s dad.

Leo Botwin

“I grew up with guys like him,” Pat noted. “It was nothing but a pleasure working for him. There is no charge. Happy 100th birthday, from Duffy Plumbing!”

Stunned, Ellen sent back her thanks. As they continued texting, she learned that it’s a third generation business. Pat’s father and son are plumbers too.

“My parents have no one really in Westport anymore,” Ellen says. “It’s hard to have friends when you’re 100 — they’re all gone.”

“Pat talked to my dad the entire time he was there. Then he wrote me the most amazing, nicest things about my dad. He showed such amazing respect.”

Pat repaid the compliment. And, he added, “The best part is, I get to sleep tonight knowing I did a good thing.”

For sure. And here’s to another good night’s sleep tonight: You’re “06880”‘s Unsung Hero of the Week!

PS: After Ellen posted about Pat Duffy Facebook, his son Hunter wrote: “My dad wants to thank everyone for their kind words. But he came home yesterday and couldn’t stop talkin about how your father is such a cool guy, and how much he loved talking to him.”

(If you know an Unsung Hero, email 06880blog@gmail.com)

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Unsung Hero #256

On a recent Friday night, an “06880” reader who wishes to remain anonymous hosted a dinner party.

An hour before her guests came, the caterer had not yet delivered the food.

She called, expecting to hear: “We’ll be there in a minute.”

Instead, the caterer said: “We can’t find your order.”

She insisted they look. They found it. Unfortunately, it had been scheduled for the next day.

With 40 people arriving in 50 minutes, the hostess panicked.

Then she did the only thing she could think of. She called her favorite takeout place: Layla’s Falafel.

A wonderful woman named Kikou answered the phone. She listened to the saga and said simply, “we can help.”

About 90 minutes later — thanks to Kikou and Layla’s amazing staff — a delicious spread for 40 appeared.

“Everyone raved about the food,” the grateful hostess says. “Of course they did, It’s Layla’s!”

She adds, “I wouldn’t recommend leaving your catering until an hour before a large party.

“But Layla’s came through. Dino, the owner, is awesome. He clearly hires well.”

Two of Layla’s Falafel many great dishes.

She has been a loyal customer since 2001, at the Fairfield and Stamford locations before they opened on the Post Road near Maple Avenue.

And, she says, she will be now — for life.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email 06880blog@gmail.com)

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Unsung Hero #255

Alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Randi Nazem writes:

At a time of so many late school bus pick-ups and drop-offs, and shortages and rotations of bus drivers (every day a different one on some buses), I want to shine a light on the driver of bus #39 at Coleytown Elementary School.

Mohammad is the most amazing driver we have had in the 5 years I’ve lived here. He was our driver last year and we thought he was stellar then. But this year, in just 3 short weeks, he has blown us all away with his timeliness, his compassion for the children and their safety, and the smile he brings to the bus stop every morning and afternoon.

Mohammad waves goodbye …

Bus 39 hit the driver jackpot, and we couldn’t be happier! He never leaves the stop without checking if all the regulars are on the bus. He drops off and won’t leave the youngest children alone if there is not a parent waiting.

He waits for us if we are running late, and most of all he has full control of a packed bus of children who are always seated and well behaved.

… and poses with some of his bus 39 children. 

Let’s give a shout out to the driver of Bus #39: a hard worker who comes who shows up every day for our children!

Your Blue Ribbon Drive/Bayberry Lane/Cross Highway crew recognizes you, and all the great things you have done to get our children to CES on time and safely.

You can’t put a price on that!

Congratulations and thank you, Mohammad. You are our Unsung Hero of the week. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email 06880blog@gmail.com.

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More smiling faces. (All photos/Randi Nazem)

 

Unsung Hero #254

Anne Marie Fox’s children’s pediatrician, Dr. Janet Woodward, retires this week.

The Willows doctor has served the community for 38 years. Anne Marie writes:

My husband Patrick and I feel extremely lucky that Dr. Woodward was recommended to us when we started a family back in 1998.

Dr. Janet Woodward

She is an outstanding doctor: brilliant, kind, patient, and unbelievably committed to her work. She makes her patients feel valued and important, and always goes above and beyond in their care.

She has been an invaluable part of our family over the years. Our girls continue to use her in their 20s. She has been a constant and consistent adult in their lives, always supporting, always available, and always interested.

Fortunately, my kids have never really had any medical emergencies or long-term health issues. I can’t imagine Dr. Woodward’s worth to families that have.

Dr. Woodward graduated from Vassar College, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York City. She completed her pediatric internship and residency at Yale Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Woodward writes on the Willows website: “When I started as a new pediatrician joining Willows Pediatrics, I was happy for the opportunity to take care of infants, children and adolescents in a vibrant small town not far from where I grew up.

“I will be forever grateful for being welcomed into the local medical community served by Norwalk Hospital, and for being welcomed by families in Westport and surrounding towns.

“I am also grateful for the original Willows partners, who set an amazing example of dedication to the practice, to always learning, and to providing the most up-to-date medical care possible.

Dr. Janet Woodward, with one of her many patients.

“Now 38 years later, it is time for me to move on, and for Willows to bring on a new enthusiastic and wonderful pediatrician. Thank you for the opportunity to help take care of what is most important in our lives, our children, and to feel part of so many of our amazing families. Through ups and downs, sharing joy and heartbreak, what I have learned from you will always stay with me.”

I know that hundreds of Westport families join my family in saying “thank you” to Dr. Woodward for the incredible care of our children over the years. We wish her much enjoyment in her retirement/

Well said, Anne Marie. Dr. Woodward has been a Westport institution, for nearly 40 years. Thanks for all you have given us — and congratulations on your well-deserved honor as our Unsung Hero this week!

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Unsung Hero #253

A grateful reader — who requests anonymity — writes:

The panel covering the fuel door on my very old Volvo came off the other day, because part of the back had worn out. It was otherwise OK.

I called Volvo. They wanted $140 for a new and unpainted part, plus over $100 to then paint the new part — plus a labor charge (TBD).

I went to a place in Southport that wanted $100 to re-attach the fuel door. They asked me to make an appointment, and come back another day.

I then stumbled upon Westport Auto Craft on Riverside Avenue.

I had never been there before, and I did not know anyone there.

They were very, very busy. But Rich was very happy to help.

In less than 5 minutes Tommy had reapplied the part, and I was on my way.

And — get this — they did not charge me a penny.

Thank you, Westport Auto Craft!

I — and many others — have had great experiences there too. Westport Auto Craft is well deserving of this week’s Unsung Hero honors. If you know a worthy nominee, email 06880blog@gmail.com.

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Unsung Hero #252

If you haven’t been to the Levitt Pavilion this year, or over the past few years*, then you don’t know Joey Bairaktaris.

But everyone else does.

He’s the Levitt’s site supervisor.

That’s his job title, anyway. He’s really much more than that.

Joey — a 2016 Staples High School graduate — is the public face of the pavilion. He’s everywhere, at every show.

Joey Baraiktaris (Photo/Susan Leone)

He makes sure guests are happy, gently enforcing rules for a few for the enjoyment of all. He makes sure the performers have what they need.

He answers questions. He solves problems before they occur. He empties trash cans (and picks up whatever stray garbage the rest of us leave behind).

And he does it all with a wonderful, winning smile.

Susan Leone nominated Joey as an “Unsung Hero.” She asked him about his job. He told her he came to Westport in 8th grade from Redding. Switching schools at mid-year was not easy. But it made him work hard to keep busy, and not think about how tough things had been.

Joey started at the Levitt 7 years ago, after working at Compo Beach and the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

He went to Johnson & Wales University, majoring in criminal justice and psychology. In the summer he’d work for Westport Parks & Rec during the day, then the Levitt every night.

He’s also working for the New England Patriots, doing security, and is in the process of applying to police departments. “All my work and schooling go together, with being around people,” Joey notes.

He says: “The best part about working at the Levitt is the people I meet. I get to interact and talk with people from all over. Everyone has endless stories and knowledge from their lives and careers. Face to face talking is lost these days with technology, so it’s great to get to actually talk to people.”

Keeping a crowd like this — and performers — happy and safe is not easy. Joey Bairaktaris does it well. (Photo/JC Martin)

He’s not kidding about his ability to talk to people. When the Peterson Brothers band came from Austin, Texas, they gave him their contact info, so he could stay with them there.

“There’s kindness everywhere,” Joey says. “It just takes all of us to bring it out.”

Joey spreads credit around. “The Levitt Pavilion is an extraordinary venue, but it wouldn’t be possible without everyone who is behind the magic. I’m a small seasonal part. The base of the Levitt is the board members and the Welshes. They make everything happen, with 365 days a year planning, organizing and so much more.”

He downplays his own role. “There’s not really anything special about me. I’m just a Westporter who loves to keep busy, try new things, and meet new people. Everyone has been so amazing. You can’t find a place like this anywhere. The community really does come first here.”

Joey Bairaktaris is — very deservedly — this week’s Unsung Hero. And he is — every week — Mr. Levitt Pavilion.

*And why not? It’s the best free entertainment in town!

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