Woody Klein — a longtime Westporter who was deeply involved in town affairs, in roles ranging from newspaper editor to RTM member to author of a detailed local history — died Tuesday. He was 90 years old.
The New York native had a distinguished career long before embarking on his Westport activities.
He was a reporter for the Washington Post and New York World Telegram & Sun (where he wrote about his experiences living undercover in a city slum); an on-air TV personality at New York’s Channels 13 and 2; press secretary for Mayor John Lindsay, and he spent 24 years in communications at IBM, including 6 as editor of the famed in-house publication Think.
After retiring from IBM in 1996, Klein served 6 years as editor of the Westport News. His “Out of the Woods” column continued to run in the paper long after he left the editor’s chair.
He also was a board member of United Way of Westport-Weston, and an advisory board member of the Westport Historical Society.
He wrote 7 books, including “Westport, Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence.”
Klein is survived by his wife, Audrey, his daughter Wendy and her husband, Howard Lippitt of Long Beach, California, and several nieces and nephews.
Much of B.V. Brooks’ life seems to come from an earlier, more traditional New England era.
His real name was Babert Vincent. His nickname was “Dexter.” He attended Deerfield Academy and Dartmouth College. Like his father — also named B.V. — Dexter was a faithful Yankee Republican.
He followed his father into real estate development. (In the 1950s, B.V. Sr. developed one of Westport’s 1st shopping strips — Westfair Center, opposite what is now Super Stop & Shop — and an adjacent housing development behind it. Dexter Road is named for his son.)
In 1964, the Brooks family launched a new local paper, the Westport News. According to Woody Klein’s history of Westport, it was formed as an opposition voice to the established Town Crier, seen as “the voice of the Republicans in power.” The Brookses were aligned with Westport’s more conservative Taxpayers Party.
Ironically, the News made its biggest name — and ultimately drove the Town Crier out of business — with a very un-Republican crusade. In 1967 United Illuminating announced plans to build a 14-story nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island, less than a mile off Compo Beach.
Brooks’ paper — led by its activist editor, Jo Brosious — began a 2-year crusade against the utility company’s purchase. In 1969, the town of Westport bought Cockenoe for $200,000. Our water has been swimmable — and our homes safe — ever since.
The News tilted more Republican in later years, but Dexter Brooks never was a ham-fisted, you’ll-say-it-my-way-or-be-gone publisher. I should know: I spent 3 years as sports editor there, and my byline has appeared in the paper ever since I was a Staples junior.
In 1999 the Brooks family sold the Westport News — and its other Brooks Community Newspapers, in towns like Fairfield, Norwalk, Darien and Greenwich — to the Thomson chain. Dexter stepped down as publisher that year.
He remained president of the Brooks, Torrey and Scott real estate company. It was another family business: Torrey and Scott are the names of his sons.
(Fun fact: Brooks Corner — where his newspaper and real estate company once had offices — is named for the family. The fact that Brooks Brothers now has a clothing store there is pure coincidence.)
Dexter Brooks’ impact on Westport — both as a real estate developer and a publisher — were enormous.
And no one could say he did not know his town.
Woody Klein’s book contains an anecdote about Dexter Brooks. Once, a fellow member of the New England Press Association asked him how a small town like Westport could support an 84-page paper. Where did so much news and so many ads come from? he asked.
“You don’t know Westport,” Brooks replied.
He explained that thanks to shoppers from far and wide, the town’s retail sales per capita were the highest in the state.
“The number and quality of restaurants is renowned far and wide,” he continued. Home prices and income levels were quite high too.
But, Brooks continued, statistics did not tell the whole story.
At the heart of the difference here, in my opinion, is the dynamics, the widespread activism that engulfs Westport. We kid that the shortest time span in the world is the time between when the light turns green and the guy behind you blows his horn.
And Westport boasts the world’s shortest time for organizing a group “pro” and a group “con” on any local issue.
Dexter Brooks died on Thursday, after suffering a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico. He was 84.
His family’s legacy — and his own — will live for years.
Every Westporter worth his salt knows the Minuteman statue.
It’s how we give directions to the beach. We put ski caps on its head, and flowers in its musket.
It commemorates Westport’s most historic only wartime exploits: 2 Revolutionary War battles.
It’s as much a part of this place as stone walls and Long Island Sound.
So it may surprise you to learn that the Minuteman statue is just 100 years young.
Tomorrow (Thursday, June 17) at 4 p.m. the Westport Historical Society is sponsoring a centennial celebration of H. Daniel Webster’s statue. It takes place at Compo Beach.
Which makes today a perfect time to look back, and learn exactly what the Minuteman commemorates.
As Woody Klein recounts in his bookWestport, Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence, on April 25, 1777 a fleet of British warships anchored off Compo Beach. The Redcoats were headed to Danbury, a colonial supply center.
The landing of 1,850 men was virtually uncontested. A group of 18 men gathered behind a stone wall near the corner of Compo and Post Roads. They killed a British major and wounded 3 others.
But the British pressed north. In Danbury they demolished an ammunition depot; burned 19 houses, 22 stores and barns; and destroyed food, clothing, medical equipment, tents, candles and a printing press.
On the way back, the colonists offered more resistance. In Ridgefield General Benedict Arnold — before he became a bad guy — rallied the local militia, and had his horse shot out from under him.
The next day, a Tory named Deliverance Bennett warned the British about an ambush planned here, on Old Hill. They doubled back, crossing the Saugatuck River at Ford Road.
Benedict Arnold rushed to intercept the redcoats near the Kings Highway Bridge. He led a charge — but none of his 200 militiamen followed.
“Arnold then rushed to the foot of Compo Hill where a full-scale battle was fought,” Klein wrote, “forcing the British to fight their way back to their ships in the harbor.” The colonial troops, led by Colonel John Lamb, forced the British into a shoulder-to-shoulder charge, with fixed bayonets. The maneuver demoralized the colonial forces, and the British made it to their ships.
The British lost 300 men, while more than 100 Connecticut militiamen were killed. According to Klein, the British later claimed the resistance they met was more severe than what they faced at Lexington and Concord.
Two years later — on July 6, 1779 — the British returned to the area, with up to 3,000 men. At Green’s Farms they torched 15 homes, 11 barns, several stores and the second Green’s Farms meetinghouse. (Deacon Ebenezer Jesup and his wife Abigail did manage to save the Green’s Farms Congregational Church’s silver Communion set, by lowering it down a well.)
Which brings us back to the Minuteman statue. Symbolizing the Connecticut Militia under the leadership of Colonel Lamb, it was sculpted by Webster from a composite of militia descendants. Former first selectman Lewis P. Wakeman reportedly also sat as a model.
The dedication took place in 1910 — 9 years after two cannons were placed at Compo Beach, on the exact spot where the British landed.
So why does the Minuteman face away from the beach?
He’s looking north, toward Compo Hill — where the final, most successful battle took place.
The Minuteman statue in 1912 -- 2 years after its dedication.
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