Monday, June 19, 2017
By James Lomuscio
Westporter Ted Diamond, who turns 100 on July 3, could have been a prototype for George Bailey in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Patriotism, devotion to his lifelong sweetheart Carol, his wife for almost 71 years, as well as his love of family, friends, the house they bought in 1955 and his hometown comprise a rich story. It is so rich it is nearly impossible to know where to begin.
It could begin with Diamond, a 1941 graduate of Columbia University’s School of Law, forgoing a desk job to serve as a U.S. Army Air Corps navigator. He led 50 bombing missions against the Nazis, cheating death each time while others did not.
Or perhaps it is Diamond in the late 1960s. He rallied support with local editor Jo Fox to stop a planned nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island accessible via a planned causeway from Westport’s Saugatuck Shores.
Maybe it begins with the Diamonds and their two boys John, 2, and Bill, 5, first discovering Westport in the 1950s. They considered it a midpoint between his office in Manhattan and the manufacturing plant he owned in Massachusetts.
Perhaps it is just best to begin in the present where Diamond seems deeply rooted despite his talent for recounting the past with journalistic clarity.
Tall, sharp and with a hardy handshake, he has too many other things to do, such as the hobby he took up when he retired at 87, jewelry making. And he and Carol have planning to do for their 71st wedding anniversary on Saturday.
Immediate family only, including three great-grandchildren, not like last year when they invited 70 people to their 70th.
“It’s a trial marriage,” he jokes. “It’s a great marriage.”
“I’ve been lucky,” he says. “Lucky in the war. Lucky in marriage. Lucky with my kids. And I’ve had good friends.”
Friends are the ones he gifts with the jewelry he makes, pendants, rings and bracelets from sterling silver and semiprecious stones in the basement of his Colonial home on Compo Road North.
Looking for a hobby upon retirement, he studied jewelry making at the Silvermine Arts Center.
His home sits across from Winslow Park. When the Diamonds bought the house 62 years ago the expansive view of fields were the site of a sanitarium. Further up Compo Road North was the town poor house.
“When we moved in I used to tell people we live in Westport between the sanitarium and the poor house,” he says.
Government and politics also keep him grounded. A lifelong Democrat, he still attends fundraisers and recalls his father’s support of New York Gov. Al Smith in his failed presidential run in 1928.
Even with the heavy schedule traveling between Manhattan and Lowell, Massachusetts where his plant manufactured an artificial leather product used industrially, Diamond was urged by Carol to carve out time for town service.
“My wife said you have to get into the community,” he added, noting that in the 1960s Carol had been active on the Bedford Elementary School PTA.
“There was a big fuss at the time about giving calculators to kids, and she said, ‘You go down and speak about why kids should have calculators.’”
Diamond donned his party’s mantel serving as second selectman under Jackie Heneage from 1973 to 1981. Before that, he sat on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) from 1961 to 1967, serving as chairman of the RTM Recreation Committee.
He pushed for the restoration of the Inn at Longshore, which the town not long before had purchased only to have it fall into disrepair.
As second selectman, he headed a committee to revamp the Fire Department through better training of professionals and volunteers and the hiring of a new chief.
Upon leaving office he has remained active in the Democratic Town Committee and party causes, as well as the Y’s Men.
Past remains prologue for him. He was chosen grand marshal of the Westport Memorial Day parade in 2007. Two years ago on his 98th birthday at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City Diamond was awarded France’s highest military honor, “the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor” for helping liberate France during World War II.
A lieutenant with the 15th Air Force, he was among 23 other recipients praised for their successful Operation Dragoon.
He talks about the past with clarity and pride, the same way he does his hometown.
“When we first came here the town was a real friendly suburban community,” he recalled.
“You could walk down Main Street and people would greet you. Today I could walk up and down there for two hours and not know a soul. It was a heartbreak when Oscar’s closed.”
Still, he does not dwell on the town that was but remains focused on its current direction. Diamond’s eyes also remain in the present as he ponders what kind of world his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will inherit. Hence, he remains politically active.
As far as his own life goes, he admits he has been blessed.
He attributes his longevity to a variety of factors: eating fish, chicken, and minimal red meat; being physically active most his life from walking, bicycling, swimming, playing tennis, and always making time for the treadmill, and giving up cigarettes in his late 40s.
“And I am a two-ounce a day alcoholic,” he quipped, “either bourbon or vodka. And when we go out to dinner, I’ll have a glass of red wine.”
“And I have to say I’ve had a very, very good, successful marriage,” he added. “Having been married for nearly 71 years and having a strong relationship keeps you healthy. And I like people.”
He said that if you like people, when you look into their eyes that appreciation comes back to you “like looking into the mirror.”
“Occasionally you look into a cracked mirror, but that’s the exception,” he said.
“You’ve got to lead a good life,” he added “You’ve got to like people. I hope to keep going. I hope to keep going.”
Posted 06/19/17 at 10:15 AM Permalink