Alert, observant and insightful “06880” reader Iain Bruce writes:
In the first 3 days after Isaias I bicycled about 125 miles in Westport, Norwalk, Wilton, Weston, Easton and Fairfield. The breadth and intensity of the destruction is astounding, as bad as or worse than Sandy. I fear that folks who are excoriating CL&P and UI may lack perspective.
The electric grid is large and complex. Getting electricity to any particular place suffers from the limitations of what is built and the laws of physics. The grid covers not only Westport but all our neighboring towns, and is an interconnected and integrated whole. It has to be reassembled in a logical order with legitimate competing priorities (safety, police/fire, population density, etc.), but always subject to those limitations of structure and physics.
I have cycled on numerous roads where huge decades-old hardwoods (oak, maple, hickory) have been split asunder and taken out all the wires in 4 or 5 places over less than a mile. I’ve passed through by walking the bike across a lot of yards, over walls, and under trees where cars cannot go (and bicycles probably ought not).
Several days after Isaias, this was still the scene on Charcoal Hill Road. (Photo/Pat Blaufuss)
One example will suffice. On Friday I saw a UI crew working to repair huge damage at the intersection of Redding Road and Hull’s Farm in Fairfield. When they finish this large-in-its-own-right job after several hours it will probably restore power to approximately nobody, because 700 feet farther north on Redding Road another tree has taken out the wires, and 1,000 or so feet north of that, a large tree is suspended by electric cables above the street.
Half a mile farther north, Cross Highway is closed on both sides of Merwins Road with wires down and transformers smashed amidst arboreal carnage. This all in a mile or so of travel. Multiply this by hundreds of miles of grid in Westport and surrounding towns, and you should have at least an inkling of the scale of the problem.
Many of your readers do understand this, but people calling the utilities callous, careless, or worse seem themselves uninformed at best. Patience would be in order.
Westporters reacted with fury to yesterday’s announcement that the River of Names mural will not be re-hung in the Westport Library.
Most of the dozens of readers responding to the “06880” story expressed chagrin that the 26-foot long, 6-foot high mural — whose 1,162 tiles represent 350 years of Westport history and memorials to families, and which was commissioned as a 1997 fundraiser — will reappear only in digitized form.
Some commenters asked for their tiles back. Others wondered if the mural — removed during the Transformation Project — was already destroyed.
The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.
Some readers also wondered why no library representatives stepped forward to respond.
This morning, they did.
Original plans for the transformed library included a spot for the River of Names, say director Bill Hamer and board of trustees president Iain Bruce.
It was to be located on the upper level, outside the children’s library near new meeting rooms. It’s a high-traffic area, just beyond the elevator and at the top of stairs. The mural would be well-lit, visible from the main level — and in an area where new generations of youngsters could learn Westport’s history from it.
Library officials presented the idea to 3 key River of Names stakeholders: Betty Lou Cummings, who conceived the project; Dorothy Curran, who shepherded it through, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every tile.
They objected adamantly. The reason: It would wrap around a corner, on an “L”-shaped wall. They believed that would destroy the “river” design. They insisted it be remounted on one straight wall.
“We were sensitive to their feelings,” Bruce said. “We did what we had to do all along: We took it down.”
This view from the main floor looks toward the childen’s library above (behind the portholes). Library officials proposed hanging the River of Names nearby. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
The wall on the lower level of the library no longer exists. The mural had to be removed and stored in one piece. Individual tiles cannot be taken apart.
The library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a professional moving and storage company. They carefully took the mural down (including the wall it is permanently part of). They preserved it, and are storing it in Ridgefield under climate-controlled conditions.
The cost to the library is $30,000 so far.
After the 3 originators told the library it could not be rehung on 2 walls, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz searched for a spot in another building.
However, Harmer says, “it can’t just hang on any wall. It’s very, very heavy.” To accommodate the mural, an existing wall would have to be demolished and rebuilt, or reinforced — at an expense considerably more than it cost to remove it. No town body was willing to pay.
“The library is committed to cooperating with any town agency or other body that wants to install the tile wall on its premises,” Harmer says.
However, an outdoor location like the Levitt will not work. The tiles were not made to withstand New England weather. If they got wet and froze, they would shatter.
The River of Names includes tiles for places like the original Westport Library, and others honoring families, local businesses and historic events.
“It was never our intention to have an irate public,” Bruce says. “A digital version seemed most logical, once we could not hang it in the library, and no one stepped up with an appropriate alternate place.”
“It was not sledgehammered,” he continues. “It is being carefully stored.”
In fact, Harmer says, the wall outside the children’s library was designed — and has been built — with the mural in mind.
“We told Betty Lou and Dorothy yesterday that it could still go there,” the director says. “We’re sorry we came to a crossroads. We’ve invested a lot of money and hours into trying to do the right thing. It’s a question of balancing the wishes of the original sponsors against our desire for an appropriate space.”
Bruce adds, “If they came back tomorrow and said they supported our original proposal, we’d do whatever we could to make it happen.”
The other day, Iain Bruce gave the convocation address at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario – his alma mater. Westporters know him as a dedicated Family Y board member, and an avid bicyclist who has raised over $150,000 for breast cancer, AIDS vaccine research and multiple sclerosis. Professionally, he is a senior managing director in the risk group of Ambac Assurance in New York.
Iain Bruce, in his convocation garb.
Iain started out like many graduation speakers: “33 years ago, I sat where you sit today: happy, proud, grateful, excited, anxious…and jobless.”
But after noting a few differences between his class and the current graduates (there are more women now, and everyone seems smarter), a few similarities (the wonderful experiences they all had in college), and a few bits of advice about taking responsibility for your life, being flexible, seeking balance and doing the right thing, Iain came to the heart of his speech. He said:
You are going to be tested in life. Some of those tests will be very hard indeed: much tougher than anything most of you have experienced so far. You may lose your job or become seriously ill. Death may take a friend, a lover, a spouse, a child. The thing to know is that while you can’t choose what happens to you, only you can choose how you respond.
In 2010 my employer was taken over by its regulator and put into rehabiliation, forbidden to write new business, and its existing business put into runoff. In the preceding 2 years we had let nearly half our staff go. Later that year, our parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
In September of that year, like you, I came to Kingston, and like your parents, my wife and I helped our son unpack his gear and move into residence. Ten days later, on a gloriously sunny morning, I knelt in the wet grass behind Victoria Hall identifying his body for the police.
Some of you knew Cameron. Some of you, I know, were tested by his death. One of you, I know, was his floormate and his friend.
Cameron and Iain Bruce.
In the wake of that annus horribilis, it would have been easy to curl up and hide, to retreat into the enervating solitude of lassitude. Nobody would have criticized it. Everybody would have understood.
But it would have been wrong. It would have been a failure: a failure of responsibility to family and colleagues; a failure of duty to myself and to Cameron’s memory; a failure to live.
Strength, and wisdom in a way, came in a form you will recognize. 2 bastardized Gaelic words: “Cha Gheill.” Loosely translated: “No surrender.”
And so I took the harder road, but the better one, the more fulfilling one, the right one. My professional position has grown and changed in ways I could not have foreseen, and I am more engaged in my work than I have ever been. In my local community and my larger non-professional world I have friends and colleagues whom I know in new and different ways, and with whom I share many important goals and much fulfilling work.
And at home I have the renewed love of my wife and daughter. To my surprise, really, I have a balanced life, one that is dramatically changed from what it was, but one that is still good and still full.
Iain Bruce and his wife Linda.
And that brings us to our last lesson. Remember this place. Hold it close to your hearts, because it is sacred.
I observed earlier that you have made friends here, some perhaps the best friends of your life.
On the worst day of my life, 33 years after our own frosh week, 4 of my classmates dropped everything they were doing and drove hundreds of miles from 4 different cities to be with me.
Beyond your family, your classmates are your support network, and you are theirs. Be there when your friends call on you, and call on them when you need them. And remember where it began.
If you are like me and my classmates, and I suspect you are, Queen’s has shaped you in ways that are not yet fully discernible. You will come in time to realize that this place is not really a physical location, a building, or a campus, though all of that infrastructure is crucial to its mission and to your memory.
Queen’s is, really, a state of mind. It has imbued in you a perspective, a strength, a body of knowledge and intuition that will help equip you for what lies ahead, whatever that may be.
You have it in you to succeed, not only in the obvious ways visible through your professional life, but in the ways that matter to your family, to your friends, to your soul. Your life is up to you. Only you can recognize opportunity when it presents itself. Only you can act on that opportunity. Only you can balance your own needs, obligations, and goals.
But in doing that, you can depend on your friends to be there for you, and they can depend on you to be there for them.
Congratulations to you all. Go forth now, and make your mark.
(Iain Bruce’s speech begins about 24 minutes into this video.)
Normally, the announcement of the Westport Y’s annual meeting wouldn’t rate a mention in “06880” — or anywhere else, outside the Y’s own bulletin board.
But tomorrow’s 87th annual meeting (Monday, June 20, 5:30 p.m., the Edward T. Bedford Room) rises above the level of ho-hummery.
In addition to the usual stuff — recognizing annual award recipients, voting on a new slate, saluting the 2-term accomplishments of Iain Bruce (president, board of directors) and Pete Wolgast (chairman, board of trustees) — the Y will recognize 3 longtime volunteers as trustee emeriti.
Their names are Bill Gault, Bill Mitchell and Allen Raymond.
Their faces and accomplishments are known to all.
The Gaults have been in town since the mid-18th century.
The Raymonds first summered here in the early 1900s.
The Mitchells are mere newcomers. Their store opened “only” in 1958.
All 3 — and their families — have been involved with the Westport Y ever since they themselves were members.
And all 3 give generously of their time, talent (and money) to countless causes besides the Y.
Tomorrow’s honor is richly deserved.
Knowing all 3 men, I can predict what will happen tomorrow: They’ll deflect any praise. They’ll thank instead the organization that is honoring them.
And they’ll say they only wish they could do more.
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