Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Remembering Westporters Lost in 2018

By James Lomuscio

From the celebrated to the lesser known, from the those with storied, long lives to the wonderful ones cut short, Westport saw the loss in 2018 of many who had an important impact on our town, state, even country.

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James R. McManus: legendary marketer. Contributed graphic

Either through their humble works or epic achievements, they forged a sense of good will and a loving sense of community. Their legacies live on. Here are some of them:

James R. McManus, founder in 1971 in Westport of Marketing Corporation of America (MCA), died Jan. 10 at his home in Fairfield. He was 84. Known merely as Jim around town, his laid back, casual demeanor belied his iconic status in the marketing industry, much of it centered in Westport.

He also donated generously to local nonprofits, including the Westport Library, whose McManus Room is named for him.

McManus told this writer in the early 1980s that he started MCA with a $25,000 loan and that he used the word America in its title “because I wanted it to sound big.” By 1986, he said his company was close to being worth $500 million.

Longtime Westporter Julia Lang Mally died Jan. 24 at 56. A 1979 graduate of Staples High School, her volunteer activities made her seem omnipresent in town.

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Julia Mally: active volunteer. Contributed photo

She served at Earthplace, The Nature Discovery Center for many years as both a trustee and as president of the board of trustees, the Westport Public Schools PTA, Staples Players, the Westport Young Women’s League, the Westport Woman’s Club, among others. She was also a WestportNow contributing photographer.

Mort Walker: Though a Stamford resident, nationally syndicated cartoonist Walker, the creator of “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi and Lois” who died at 94 Jan. 27, spent a lot of time in Westport — so much so that he was laid to rest at Willowbrook Cemetery.

Walker had the longest tenure of any cartoonist on an original creation, according to King Features Syndicate, which began distributing “Beetle Bailey” in 1950.

Ed Vebell, the pen and ink adventurer, World War II cavalryman, the only illustrator at the Nuremberg trials, Olympic fencer and prolific artist for national magazines, died Feb. 6 at his Westport home on Quentin Road. He was 96.

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Ed Vebell: renowned illustrator. Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com

He died just 10 days after the exhibit titled “The Curious Case of Ed Vebell” opened at the Westport Historical Society (WHS), drawing more than 100 persons to celebrate the work and legacy of a local resident who, with his pen, had a front-row seat in the mid-20th century.

“He had congestive heart failure for some time now but was determined to make it to his show at the Historical Society,” the daughter said. “After that, he said he could go.”

Marjorie “Margie” Ann (Holtz) Call, mother of former Westport Police Chief Dale Call, died Feb. 14 from complications of a long-term illness. She was 78.

Born April 4, 1939 to Harold and Rhea (Medvedow) Holtz in New Haven, she moved to Westport with her family in 1951.

She graduated from Staples High School in 1957, and married George Call in 1961, who remained the love of her life for over 35 years.

After high school, she worked at Save the Children. When her sons were young, she worked for many years as a school crossing guard for the Westport Police Department.

Gaetano “Guy” Passarelli, a Westport resident for 68 years, died March 5 after a long illness. He was 92.

Born Nov. 1, 1925 in Jelsi, Italy, he emigrated with his wife Filomena and their two oldest daughters to Westport’s Saugatuck area in 1960.

Upon arrival to Saugatuck, he pursed a very successful career as a self-employed master tailor. He had a passion for gardening and always enjoyed his summer gardens.

Howard J. Aibel of Weston, lawyer, conservationist, philanthropist, and passionate arts advocate, died March 9 from complications from pneumonia. He was 88.

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Howard Aibel: passionate arts advocate. Helen Klisser During for WestportNow.com

His ties to Westport included serving as vice chair of the Westport Country Playhouse, which renamed its campus after him, a past board member of the Westport Arts Center, and a member of the Westport Rotary Club.

He worked for nearly 30 years as executive vice president and chief legal officer of International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. Before joining ITT in 1964, he was antitrust litigation counsel for General Electric and an attorney with White & Case.

Lawrence K. Grossman, former president of PBS and NBC News, died March 23 at his Westport home on Brookside Drive. He was 86.

His granddaughter Rebecca Grossman-Cohen said he had Parkinson’s disease and oral cancer, according to The New York Times.

The former advertising executive was forced out of NBC in 1988, four years after he was hired, after he resisted budget cuts ordered by then corporate parent GE. One of his big journalistic coups was overseeing Tom Brokaw’s 1987 interview with Mikhail Gorbachev.

In Westport, he later appeared periodically on panel discussions and spoke to local groups on media issues.

Richard (Dick) Leonard of Darien, a longtime Westporter, Staples High School teacher of English and 20-year head of the Westport Education Association, the teachers union, died May 1. He was 88.

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Dick Leonard: retired Staples teacher. File photo

He and his wife Paula moved to assisted living in Darien in 2015 after they said they could not find similar housing in Westport.

Leonard, moved with his parents to Westport in 1946. He was just 15 but commuted daily on the 6:30 a.m. train to New York, so he could finish up at St. John’s Prep in Astoria, Queens. Paula Leonard moved with her parents to Westport in 1952, graduating from Staples High School that year.

Audrey Garey Thomson, a former Westport resident and features editor and reporter for the now defunct Westport Town Crier, died April 24 at her home in Madison. She was 92.

She was born in Philadelphia, she moved in 1952 to Westport with her husband Fred Thomson, an advertising copywriter, in 1952. They had two daughters, Deb and Pam.

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Maria Giunta: active in community. Contributed photo

Westport resident Maria R. Giunta, for years a familiar presence at the former Westport Bank & Trust Co. and an active community volunteer, died May 28 at home. She was 95.

A longtime parishioner of the Church of the Assumption, she was a member of the Catholic Daughters of America and a dedicated volunteer for the American Red Cross and the Westport Sons of Italy.

Arnold Van Hoven Bernhard of Westport died March 7 at 83. A longtime resident of Westport, a sculptor and pastel artist, philanthropist, financial analyst, and ecologist, he was the son of the late Arnold Bernhard and Janet Kinghorn Bernhard.

Arnold Bernhard was the founder of Value Line Investment Survey and in the early 1980s was named to the Forbes 400 list of the world’s richest people.

An alumnus of the Choate School, Van Bernhard was a passionate entrepreneur.

He was a founder of Hummingbird Farms, the hydroponic tomato farm in Maryland, a partner in Bernhard Link Theatrical Productions, a fashion and event production company in New York City, a partner in Bernhard Brown, a sound and light company in Texas, as well as a partner in Bernhard Thomas, a state of the art wall panel manufacturer in Connecticut.

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Fran Reynolds: friend to all seniors. Contributed photo

Frances “Fran” Reynolds of Westport, former senior services coordinator for the Town of Westport for 25 years died May 25. She was 89.

A Westport resident for 56 years, she was the wife of the late Robert “Bob” Reynolds.

Neil O. Hardy, a 51-year resident of Westport and renowned medical illustrator, died June 3 at the Wilton Meadows Rehabilitation and Health Care Center after a brief illness. He was 88.

More than 100 persons attended a memorial service July 22 at the Westport Center for Senior Activities for the award-winning medical illustrator.

William Hess Jr. of Trumbull, a summer fixture for more than three decades at Joey’s by the Shore at Westport’s Compo Beach, died July 22. He was 52.

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Billy Hess: a fixture at Joey’s at Compo. Contributed photo

A loving father, devoted husband and known to friends as Billy, Hess was described as a quintessential jack of all trades — home improvement contractor by trade and a Joey’s restaurateur.

He also served with the Trumbull High School marching band and color guard.

Holocaust survivor Sam Smith, formerly a longtime Westport resident, died Aug. 7 at home in Southport. He was 104.

Described as an amazing man who led a very full life, Smith was born in Katowitz, Poland and was a victim of the Holocaust.

He was the only member of his family to survive, escaping from a concentration camp to join the resistance forces for the last two years of World War II, found himself on the Communist side of the Iron Curtain when the war ended and managed to escape to the West.

He married and emigrated to the United States in 1950. Teaching himself to speak, read and write English, he began a long career in construction rising to the position of foreman for the Disel Construction Company in New York City.

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Perrin Delorey: baseball fan. Contributed photo

Perrin Ryan Delorey, 10, of Westport died June 11 in Albany Medical Center following a car crash in upstate New York. He was a fourth grade student at Greens Farms Elementary School and an avid baseball fan.

Westport Little League and Baseball and Softball paid tribute to Perrin at a game at Kowalsky Field. An overflow crowd attended his funeral at Saint Luke Church.

Rachel Hope Doran, a 2015 Staples High School graduate, died Aug. 17 at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York after a five-week battle with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. She was 21 and about to begin her senior year at Cornell University as a fashion design major with a minor in business.

Rachel was well known for her entrepreneurial skills, academic excellence, skilled costume designs and “most importantly her kind heart,” family and friends said. Her life was celebrated Aug. 22 at Temple Israel.

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William Crowther: former P&Z member. Contributed photo

William (Bill) Crowther of Fairfield, a former longtime Westport resident active in community affairs, died Aug. 15 at home. He was 94.

He served nine years on the Planning and Zoning Commission (1994 — 2003), a portion of that time as vice chairman.

Richard Steven Sugarman of Niantic, a former Westport resident, Staples High School graduate and son of celebrated Westport illustrator Tracy Sugarman, died Aug. 11. He had just finished swimming while working on his beloved catamaran, Ocean Gypsy. He was 72.

Though he called himself “a New Yorker in his blood” he actually spent most of his childhood growing up in Westport where he developed a lifelong love of the sea and sailing, friends said.

Former Westport First Selectman Bill Seiden, died at 91 Aug. 8, in Bend, Oregon. He seemed a lot like the town he headed from 1981 to 1985 — passionate, showbiz, a little zany and always with a flair for the dramatic.

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Bill Seiden: first selectman 1981-85. Contributed photo

He even went out that way, announcing and inviting friends to a “Death with Dignity” party after two years of hospice care.

A nephew by marriage to Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, he was a child actor, not only in Stooges episodes, but in films with the legendary Charles Laughton, he told me back in 1984.

“I spent a lot of time with Uncle Moe, a lot of time with the Stooges growing up,” said Seiden, who had worked as an engineer before going into politics.

George A. Weigle, of Westport, iconic choral director for 35 years at Staples High School and founder of the Orphenians, died Aug. 21 at Norwalk Hospital. He was 90.

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George Weigle: Staples legend. Contributed photo

Born in Vienna, West Virginia, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in music from West Virginia Wesleyan, his Master of Arts degree in music from Boston University, his sixth year degree from Columbia University, and an honorary doctorate from West Virginia Wesleyan.

He started his teaching career in the Westport Public School system in 1954 at Bedford Junior High School. He then moved to Staples High School in 1959 as choral director, retiring in 1988.

Alan Abel, a former Westporter and a notorious “professional hoaxer” who conned The New York Times into erroneously running his obituary in 1980, died Sept. 14 at his home in Southbury, the newspaper said — after triple checking. He was 94.

Abel had used 12 accomplices in his successful effort to portray his own death, the Times said.

A writer, lecturer, actor, filmmaker, jazz musician and comedian, Abel wrote at least eight books, including “Abel Raises Cain.” His jazz band often played at the Saugatuck Congregational Church annual Thanksgiving Day feast.

Corey Hausman, a 2018 Staples High School graduate, died Sept. 12 following a skateboard accident at the University of Colorado-Boulder where he was a freshman. He was 18.

The accident happened while he was riding his skateboard across campus to a friend’s house after class on a Tuesday afternoon.

Augustus Gerard Cardello, known to friends as “Gus,” died unexpectedly on Oct. 12 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was 19.

A native of Westport, he was born on June 6, 1999 in London, England. He was a 2017 graduate of Staples High School, and he was currently enrolled at Providence College.

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Janet Beasley: longtime Westporter. Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Janet Beasley, a well-known longtime Westporter and German-Jewish Holocaust survivor, died Nov. 3 after a long battle with cancer. She was 82.

She was married to longtime Westport pediatrician Albert Beasley. She was best known as a naturalist, a swimmer, artist and for her dedication to friends and family

Westport resident Nancy Hammerslough, a figure in Weston’s political, cultural and social life for more than 50 years, died Nov. 1 at home. She was 87.

Her Kettle Creek Road home in Weston dubbed “The Brown Barn,” was the setting for Democratic Party planning groups, scriptwriting sessions for Weston Players productions, and raucous holiday parties.

It also housed her publishing company, Pictures of Record, an academic publisher focusing on archaeology. That in turn led to a new business, Brown Barn Books, which published dozens of novels for young adults.

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Alden Sherman: vintage car collector. Photo by Jo Shields

Weston resident and former Westporter Alden O. Sherman, known for his extremely rare, multimillion-dollar Bugatti automobiles that he would tool around town in, sometimes, he said, just to go out to buy a quart of milk, died Nov. 10 at 100.

He was an entrepreneur, aerospace industry legend, machinist and inventor, as well as a classic car collector.

Brian Gordon, a Weston selectman and former Westport resident, died Nov. 18. He was 49.

An announcement on the Town of Weston website said: “Brian lost an epic struggle with cancer. He courageously continued to serve our town to the very end. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Gordon, a 1987 graduate of Staples High School where he was president of the senior class, moved to Westport in 1983 and to Weston in 2013. He had been selectman there since 2017.

Noel Francis Dupont of Westport, owner of François du Pont Jewelers in Sconset Square, and before that Main Street, died unexpectedly at home on Nov. 15. He was 59.

Born in Bridgeport on Nov. 11, 1959, he was the son of the late François DuPont and Marylou (Giard) Dupont.

He graduated from Staples High School and attended the Berklee College of Music.

For the last 38 years, he has been proud to carry on his father’s legacy as the owner of François du Pont Jewelers.

Mike (Myron) Belaga of Westport, a retired oil company executive who became a longtime community activist, died Nov. 24 at the Fairfield County Hospice House in Stamford. He was 88.

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Mike Belaga: community activist. Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com

After he retired from the oil industry in 1983, he became a volunteer and community activist in Westport. In 1984 he was appointed to evaluate a 14-town appraisal of an incinerator-to-energy arrangement with Wheelabrator-Frye Inc. This would be an unprecedented municipal collaboration.

He spent two years working on the contract and communicating with the 14 Fairfield County towns. A contract evolved that included a section known as the “Belaga phrase” which saved the towns $300 million compared to the preliminary contract.

In 1986 he joined the Republican Town Committee and then served as chairman.

Selma (Saartje) Engel (nee Wynberg), of Branford, a former Westport resident who escaped a Nazi extermination camp after a prisoner uprising and was among the first to tell the world about the camp’s existence, died Dec. 4 in an assisted living facility in East Haven. She was 96.

Born in Zwolle, the Netherlands, she was the widow of Chaim Engel, with whom she escaped from the Nazi’s Sobibor extermination camp in Eastern Poland, and lived out the rest of the Holocaust hidden by Polish peasants in their barn.

After Russia defeated the Nazis in Poland, the couple returned to Zwolle and then moved to Israel, before emigrating to the United States in 1957, and living in Westport where they resided on Wilton Road.

The couple later moved to Oakwood Lane. Daughter Alida was a member of the 1964 Staples graduating class while son Fred was ‘66.

Brian S. Andersen of Westport died suddenly on Dec. 2 in Norwalk Hospital. He was 20.

He was born in Hudson, New York on June 29, 1998 and was the son of Rebekah Vining and Lou Kitchner.

A 2016 graduate of Staples High School, he was best known for his compassion and selflessness.

Stanley Groner, a longtime Westporter, died Dec. 6. He was 88. He was born Feb. 2, 1930 in Los Angeles to proud parents Jacob Groner and Rachel “Ray” Blatnikoff.

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Stan Groner: longtime Westporter. Contributed photo

He graduated from Cal Tech in 1952 with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. One year later, he took his father’s advice to “marry a local girl,” Phyllis Groner, a WestportNow.com contributing photographer.

They were delighted by the arrival of daughter Helen followed by their second daughter Hilary.

Groner worked in various engineering and management positions beginning as a test engineer for Hydro-Aire in Los Angeles.

Shirley Mae D’Aiuto, a lifelong Westporter and wife of the late Frederick A. D’Aiuto, died Dec. 5 at home. She was 87.

Born on March 11, 1931, she was the daughter of the late Andrew and Lillian D’Amico Tedesco.

She graduated from Staples High School where her more than 60-year loving journey with Fred began.

Shirley worked for many years at CB Dolge Co. and later at Westport Town Hall.

She was a proud volunteer for the Sons of Italy organization where she participated in bringing back the St. Anthony feast yearly celebration in Saugatuck.

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Ann Gill: former P&Z chair. Contributed photo

Ann Adele (nee Collins) Gill of Westport, long active in community affairs including service on the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission, died Dec, 9 at home after a brief illness. She was 89.

She was predeceased by her brother, Francis W Collins, Jr., and by her husband of 63 years, Edward B. Gill.

She graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1951 with a B.S. in horticulture and was an active member of Delta Zeta sorority throughout her life. She received an advanced degree in teaching from Western Connecticut State University and subsequently taught fifth grade in Trumbull for seven years.

She served on myriad town organizations and committees and was best known for work on the P&Z, two of them as chair.

The Rev. Msgr. Thomas Jerome Driscoll, a former pastor of Saint Luke Church in Westport, died Dec. 20. He was 81.

He was born in Danbury on Feb. 15, 1937, son of Dr. Jerome and Mary Margaret (Devitt) Driscoll. Following his graduation from Danbury High School, his priestly formation began at St. Thomas Seminary College in Bloomfield, and continued at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Bridgeport by the Most Rev. Martin J. O’Connor in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City on Dec. 20, 1961.

In 1974, he was appointed pastor of Saint Luke Parish in Westport, where he served until 1990.

Lawrence G. Roberts, a native Westporter who designed and managed the first packet network, the ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, died on Dec. 26 at his home in Redwood City, California. He was 81.

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Larry Roberts: Recalled Westport childhood. File photo

The 1955 Staples High School graduate was the son of chemists Elizabeth and Elliot Roberts (second selectman under First Selectman Herbert Baldwin 1957-1965) and developed an early interest in inventing and electronics.

During his youth, he built a Tesla coil, a high-powered electrical transformer, assembled a television from scratch, and designed a telephone network built from transistors for the Girl Scout camp in Weston where his parents were active.

Explaining to The New York Times why he decided not to follow his parents into their field, he said: ““I wanted something new, not old like chemistry.”

Faith Hope Consolo, a Westport-raised legendary New York City commercial real estate broker whose portfolio of luxury retail clients led her to call herself the “Queen of Retail,” died Dec. 23 at her Manhattan home. She was 73.

At age 2, she moved with her parents to Westport from Shaker Heights, Ohio, and retained that Westport home late into her life.

Well known for her signature pink and ubiquitous slogans, such as, “To Find the Best Retail Space — You Need Faith,” Consolo brought many prominent retailers to Manhattan.

They included Cartier, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, Giorgio Armani and Fendi.

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