WESTPORT — Camille Addario may be best known as the mother of New York Times conflict photojournalist Lynsey Addario, but Camille has a powerful story of her own.

The child of first-generation Italian immigrants, Addario, 78, spent her early years in a six-family tenement house in New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood with her parents and four brothers. At 15, Addario’s parents divorced and her mother, Nonnie, moved Addario and her siblings to North Haven, where she raised them as a single parent.

Nonnie supported the family as a dressmaker and making alterations, and Addario and her brothers contributed whatever they could by working. “She is really the matriarch of the family,” Addario said of her mother, now 105, from whom she said she got her strength and stamina.

Despite the challenges, Addario remembers her childhood fondly. “It was great. I always say I wish my kids had experienced growing up in the ’50s because it was such a fabulous era,” Addario said.

After high school, Addario said she wanted to go to college but there was no money for her to attend, so she went to hairdressing school in New Haven.

“I remember I was looking in the mirror and I had this long ponytail and I pulled back my hair and I said, what can I do to make money without going to college and I thought, maybe hairdressing,” Addario said.

After hairdressing school, Addario, then 20, moved to California to work at a high-end salon in Beverly Hills, but only stayed a year because an accident temporarily disabled her from working and forced her to return home. “The things you least expect to happen will happen,” Addario said.

Upon returning to Connecticut, Addario reconnected with a friend from hairdressing school who, after graduation, began working at the former Charles and the Ritz salon in Westport.

That friend, Phillip Addario, became Camille’s boyfriend, and Addario moved to Westport to work join him at Charles and the Ritz. A few years later, in 1963, Camille and Phillip, now married, bought a home in Westport and started their own salon, Phillip Coiffures.

“We bought this little ranch house. My father was a contractor and he added onto the first floor where we had a salon and built a beautiful apartment above,” Addario said.

The apartment became too cramped, so the family, now with four daughters — Lauren, Lisa, Lesley and Lynsey, later moved to a larger home in Westport.

In her 2015 memoir, “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War,” Lynsey Addario wrote that her family’s home was populated by employees, clients and friends of her parents’ salon. “The Addario house in Westport, Connecticut, was a kaleidoscope of transvestites and Village People look-alikes, a haven for people who weren’t accepted elsewhere,” Addario wrote.

Camille and Phillip separated in 1982, however, when Phillip came out as gay and moved in with his partner, Bruce.

“It was, to say the least, a little shocking when we broke up, but that all got ironed out and we continue to survive from there,” Addario said of her divorce, after which Addario said she and her daughters banded together to make it through the difficult time.

Camille and Phillip kept the salon open following the divorce, but after six years Phillip and Bruce opened a new salon and Camille opened one of her own. Working as a hairdresser, Addario said she was always referring people to local doctors and real estate agents, and one day a client suggested Addario get a real estate license.

Intrigued by the potential for another source of income, Addario began work as a real estate agent in the late 1990s for William Pitt, which later merged into William Pitt Sotheby’s International real estate firm, where she works to this day.

In 2000, Addario closed her salon, but continues to maintain hairdressing clients at Westport’s Rick Garcia Salon. “I love what I do. I sometimes think it would be good to just focus on one thing, but then I wouldn’t be able to meet all the different people that I meet and would get bored, not that I ever get bored,” Addario said.

Lynsey, who won a MacArthur Genius Award in 2009, is not the only one of Addario’s daughters who has had a successful career. Lisa writes screenplays with her husband in Los Angeles, Lauren teaches media arts at a University in New Mexico, and Leslie works for Disney in Los Angeles.

Freedom enabled her children to grow into successful women, Addario said. When Lynsey told her mom she was going to Afghanistan to photograph in the aftermath of 9/11, Addario said she told her daughter, “Oh, alright, have fun.” However, Addario admitted having a daughter who frequently enters dangerous situations is not easy, and said the five days her daughter was held captive in Libya by dictator Muammar Gaddafi was the worst experience of her life.

Nonetheless, Addario said she never held her daughters back from their dreams.

“I used to tell them: Do what you love, but try to make a living out of it. They did, and ironically, they’re all in the arts, Addario said. “It amazes me they’re so accomplished. To think, how did this happen from two little hairdressers?”

svaughan@hearst

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