As Westport turns the page on a new year, it’s fitting to honor 2 longtime residents who show us — every day — that age is only a number.
Ted Diamond turned 100 in July. An Army Air Corps combat navigator with the 15th Air Force, he flew 50 World War II missions over highly secured military installations across Europe, often leading a group of 28 B-17s.
Two years ago — on his 98th birthday — he received France’s highest medal: the insignia of Chevalier (knight) of the Legion of Honor.
The award — established by Napoleon in 1802 — acknowledged Diamond’s enduring contribution to the success of Operation Dragoon, a military campaign to free the nation from Nazi domination.
Ted Diamond, at this year’s Memorial Day ceremony.
He has spent the last 62 years in Westport. In addition to 3 terms as 2nd selectman, he was an RTM member, and volunteered on numerous town committees, commissions and boards.
In 2007, Diamond served as grand marshal of Westport’s Memorial Day parade. He has attended nearly every one since moving here — and already looks forward to next May.
Irene Backalenick had a long career as a New York Times journalist. Then — after earning a Ph.D. in theater history — she became a noted theater reviewer.
In her 90s she turned to poetry. She’s published many times, and has fans in far-flung places.
She and a tight-knit group of 5 women — including longtime Westport writer Gloria Sugarman — meet regularly, in a writers’ workshop.
Irene posts some of her poems on Facebook. Others are on her personal blog.
Ted and Irene have added much to Westport, for so many years. Their countless friends wish them another year filled with good health, great happiness, love and joy.
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
After college, the Staples High School graduate spent years in Los Angeles. The journalist was a regular New York Times correspondent, and contributed to 100 publications.
But in 2008, he returned to give his kids some suburban experience.
Now — with nearly a decade back home, as a freelance writer and photographer — he’s gained a new appreciation for Westport’s uniqueness. He’s deepened old relationships, and made new acquaintances.
“Sad to say, many of us are so paralyzed by the fear-based myths of being ‘practical’ that we shun the directions our hearts want to lead us,” he says.
“Instead we waste time talking ourselves into believing we’re happily situated in our work life.”
Two years ago, he decided to go all-in pursuing film and video — interests he’d had since dabbling in them decades ago at Coleytown Junior High.
He wrote “Home Movie,” a feature-length dark comedy. Filmed entirely in Westport, it’s the story of a young woman’s trip back to her hometown after her father dies.
But the title also refers to the help Liotta got from many local people and groups, including the Westport Woman’s Club, Senior Center, Police Department, Kaia Yoga, 323 restaurant, Gold’s Deli, even the Harding Funeral Home.
A Kickstarter campaign — running through Thanksgiving — will help him place “Home Movie” in film festivals.
A scene from “Home Movie” …
While working on that project, Liotta talked with Bill Harmer. The Westport Library director mentioned that his previous library in Michigan was involved with films on local subjects.
Bob Mitchell of the Westport Historical Society heard that Liotta was interested in a Westport-based documentary. He suggested veterans.
“I’ve always been a dove,” Liotta says. “I’ve had relatively set ideas about the military, and what I imagined was a typical veteran.”
But he liked the idea. After each interview, his impressions evolved.
“On a personal level, it was very enlightening,” he explains. “I found myself understanding many positive aspects about the involvement I wouldn’t otherwise have considered.”
… and one from his veterans’ documentary.
Liotta started with World War II veterans, including well-known Westporters Leonard Everett Fisher, Ted Diamond and Bob Satter. Some he knew personally. Others, he says, “I had the good fortune to meet.”
While he still considers any kind of military machine “repugnant” — though “perhaps necessary” — he now has a different perspective on those who choose to serve.
“The people I interviewed seem to recognize the tremendous value in living a service attitude — giving back or taking responsibility to help their larger community,” Liotta says.
“That’s a brilliant and honorable concept. To me, that’s really the core reason to honor veterans.”
Right now, Liotta is editing the film. It’s called “Community & Country: A Spirit of Service.” It will be shown at Town Hall on Monday, November 13 (7 p.m.)
He hopes the library and Historical Society will make copies available after it’s screened.
That will be their — and his — way of giving back, just as our veterans have done.
Hosted by the Westport Historical Society, it’s a fascinating — and extremely professional — romp through more than a century of Longshore life. Long before it was a town park — even before it was a thriving club — the land between Compo and the river hummed with activity.
That’s George Lawrence (above). His father — Alexander Lawrence — was a wealthy New Yorker who in 1868 purchased 68 acres of farmland on what is now Longshore. Alexander made his money important fruit and statuary. As the Longshore 50th site notes, George is standing on “the fruits of his father’s labor.”
This is the “Longshore Lookout Tower” — but growing up in the 1960s, we always called it “the lighthouse.” If you’re walking through the pavilion toward the pool, the tower would be on your left. It was torn down sometime in the ’60s or early ’70s. Why? Who knows?
Here’s the Inn at Longshore, looking barren and bleak. Perhaps this picture was taken during the time the inn nearly went bankrupt.
Those photos — and many more — are on the Longshore 50th website. You’ll also find maps, and video interviews with sailing school managers past and present, golf superintendent Don Rackliffe, former town officials like Jackie Heneage, Ted Diamond and Bill Steffen, and more.
There are audio interviews with folks like 97-year-old Pat Lucci, who played golf with Bob Hope and Bert Lahr. (The “Cowardly Lion” was Longshore Beach & Country Club champ in 1935).
And there are newspaper clippings and maps, along with a blog and calendar of events.
Plenty of website for things like 50th anniversary celebrations are half-hearted, lifeless and littered with dead links.
This one is dynamic, fresh, handsome — and always new.
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