Woog’s World: Three lives, 192 years add up to remarkable legacies
Three very different men and women. Three separate yet remarkable lives. Three deaths earlier this month. Taken together, they say a great deal about what it means to spend whatever time we have here on earth — and in a community.
Howard Munce lived a full century. In those 100 years, he touched countless lives. An advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author and teacher, he ranks as one of Westport’s most prominent arts figures ever. And we have had many.
He served his country. In World War II, he was a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal. With men like fellow illustrator and good friend Tracy Sugarman, Munce kept the world free. Then — for the rest of their lives — they dedicated themselves to improving it.
In Westport — his home all his adult life — Munce gave of himself every chance he got. For more than 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library. He was an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. He donated dozens of paintings to the Permanent Art Collection, curated exhibits for the Westport Historical Society and mentored young artists. Whatever he was asked to do — and whenever he was asked to do it — he always said “yes.”
Last November, when he turned 100, the Westport Historical Society honored this remarkable and very humble man. He seemed genuinely surprised at the outpouring of affection, and gratified to see so many people there. Those who make it to the century mark often find that as their friends and acquaintances pass, their world narrows. Until the day he died, Howard Munce’s world turned broadly and widely. But its center was always Westport.
John Shuck died recently, after suffering a stroke. He was 69. Once upon a time, that age was unremarkable. As the psalm says, we get “three score and 10” years of life. Now, it is far too young.
But like Munce, Shuck accomplished a tremendous amount in his lifetime. And he gave an enormous amount back.
A veteran himself — he served in the Army for six years, including three of active duty — he moved to Westport in 1980. Shuck served on the United Way board, Staples Tuition Grants, the Public Site and Building Commission and with Westport Rotary. In 1992, he was selected Rotarian president.
Shuck, who last year attended his 51st Indianapolis 500, co-founded the Fairfield County Concours d’Elegance. For eight years he was its president and director of operations. Beyond being a very cool event, it raised funds for the Drive to Treat Autism, and St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Services.
Shuck did much more, of course. He loved music, restored cars and motorcycles, founded a home inspection business and rode a home-built bike in an 8,600-mile rally around the perimeter of the United States. (Fittingly, it’s called the Iron Butt.) When his daughter was born, he was a foreman on the inaugural Compo Beach playground project.
John Shuck packed a lot of living into his 69 years. Much of it made Westport a much more livable place.
Victoria McGrath did not live in Westport. But as a Weston resident, she is almost one of us.
In 2013, as she neared the the Boston Marathon finish line, shrapnel tore through her left leg. A photograph of a firefighter carrying her to a medical tent is one of the searing images from that horrific day.
McGrath had already donated plenty of time to others, through student organizations and community service at Northeastern University. Her courage in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing inspired many, including the man who saved her.
“Her love, support and friendship helped myself and my family deal with the acts of 4/15/13,” firefighter James Plourde said.
McGrath was set to graduate this spring. Traveling with a classmate in Dubai, she was killed in a car crash there. She was 23 years old.
McGrath was a finance major. But she planned to become a nurse. Her marathon experience had changed things. “I look up to the people who saved me so much,” she said. “It would be incredible to do that for someone.”
As she recovered from extensive surgeries, and underwent rehabilitation to regain the use of her leg, McGrath also fought emotional wounds. She overcame fears of crowds and fireworks, by exposing herself to them over and over again.
“There are times when I feel less safe than I’d like to be,” she admitted. “But I can’t live my life that way. People shouldn’t live their life in fear.”
No, they should not. People should not live their lives in fear. They should live them with courage and strength. With dignity and grace. With smiles and outstretched hands. With love and commitment, and hearts filled with hope.
Just as Howard Munce, John Shuck and Victoria McGrath did, for their combined 192 years on earth.