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Thursday, February 14, 2013

To Westport: The Town Tracy Sugarman Loved

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(Editor’s note: The journalist wife of longtime Westporter Tracy Sugarman, the indefatigable and nationally recognized illustrator, writer and civil rights activist, who died Jan. 20 at the age of 91, offers this Valentine’s Day bouquet in words to the people of the town he loved.)

By Gloria Cole Sugarman Image
Tracy Sugarman with his wife, Gloria, at the 2011 Westport Memorial Day ceremony. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Helen Klisser During for

The cascade of accolades, admiration and affection as well as the eloquent, touching private and public tributes to Tracy Sugarman keep coming.

It is gratifying to know how beloved he was, as if everyone knew him personally. Even you who knew him personally may not realize that he was the same person privately and publicly. There were no sides to him. He was entirely as he was perceived.

You may also enjoy knowing that he was a jock who played varsity lacrosse at Syracuse.  He was also an avid sports fan who would watch a game all by himself. I only knew it was either the Jets, the Mets, or the Nets, and I only knew that because they rhymed—and he would laugh out loud, cheer, groan, talk to the screen and then recount in vivid detail the best plays.

He was an eternal optimist who could find the most obscure good in what most people thought was not. He even thought President Obama won the first debate, but then said, “He was wonderful, but he’ll do better next time.”

Like the Nutmegger he became some 65 years ago, he was a man of steady habits: peanut butter on crackers before his daily nap; Hershey’s chocolate with almonds as a late-night snack; and eggs in some form on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

In fact, breakfast was his favorite meal, which he thought about the night before, and planned as soon as he woke up in the morning.

Among our rituals was our annual Veterans Day weekend in New York to celebrate our birthdays and anniversary with theater, restaurants, and wandering the city, just as it was beginning to sparkle for Christmas.

Most memorable among those was 11/11/11, when, after a hair-raising, taxi and truck dodging pedi-cab ride, we arrived back at our wonderful, borrowed apartment in Greenwich Village at 11 p.m. We stood at the curb, talking to our driver about his and our lives.

After thanking Tracy for his service in World War II, the young man said, “It’s my anniversary, too. I gave up drinking 11 years ago today.”

The only living creatures who that didn’t warm to Tracy were dogs, who seemed to crouch and growl at his presence as he would try to pet them and say sweetly, “Nice, vicious dog.”

Children, on the other hand, took to him immediately, as he did to them. Perhaps they recognized his eternal boyishness.

He seemed to know not only who they were right then, but who they were becoming. And they were among his favorite subjects to draw and paint. He believed young people would change the world and he made sure they knew that.

One of the greatest pleasures of his later life was making new friends, which he did with the same grace that he did everything. He was the first to reach out to someone having a hard time, and somehow his very presence was reassuring and soothing.

And of course his “lunch with the boys,” all three of them in their 90s and still working artists, was one of his greatest joys.

Their three-hour lunches every other week sent all of them home, giggling and affirming to their wives, “It was wonderful.” Tracy said, “We probably tell each other the same stories over and over, but it doesn’t matter.”

Even on his last day, he spent time at his drawing board and computer, rescuing art work that had been soaked by Hurricane Sandy and working on his next book idea.

Creative concepts for both just seemed to flow from an inner source that produced lyrical sweeping images punctuated by vivid telling details. Yet this same man put up the coffee in the morning and did the dinner dishes at night.

Time was his friend, and he somehow managed to have or make enough of it to do all the things he considered important, such as visiting someone he barely knew in the hospital.

Time seemed to stretch for him. He could arrive somewhere on the dot, even when he started late. Lights turned green as he approached, and a parking spot would suddenly open when he pulled into a full lot.

Time was his friend even to the end. He managed to leave life quietly and peacefully between President Obama’s private and public inaugurals. He would not have wanted to detract or distract from the main event, which so justified his faith in America.

Tracy loved being the Grand Marshal of last year’s Memorial Day parade. The celebration of his life will be this Memorial Day weekend: Sunday, May 26, at 2 p.m. at Westport’s Unitarian Church.

Posted 02/14/13 at 02:30 PM


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Tracy your husband was (is) a wonderful man.

When I was the President of the Westport Kiwanis Club I had the honor of introducing him to speak to the club.  From his service to our country at D-Day to the civil rights movement he was a true American hero.

Posted by John Harder on February 16, 2013 at 04:45 AM | #

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