Woog’s World / Three residents left lasting impacts on community
Westport lost three noted citizens this month. You may not know their names, but all lived here for decades. All loved the town. And all followed their passions, making their marks on it in whatever ways they could.
Jim Goodrich was 75. He had a very successful career in business — but that’s not how two decades of students knew him. First at Bedford Middle School, then at Staples High, he served as a substitute teacher.
He threw himself fully into the school community. He knew nearly every teenager, and engaged them fully as a friend and mentor. He advised the Challenge Team and Barbecue Club, was a firm but loving Advanced Placement test proctor, organized sports fan buses, coached the sailing team, and got down on the mat with wrestlers even in his 70s (at Ohio Wesleyan University, he was not pinned until his final match).
A worldly man, dating back to his military service in the Canal Zone, he opened students’ eyes to life beyond Westport. Jim touched many lives in Westport. A memorial service at the Unitarian Church on December 1 at 11 a.m. will be followed by a reception at the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club that he and his wife Luisa loved so much.
Like Jim, Janet Beasley had more than one mission in life. A Holocaust survivor, she spoke out strongly about the horrors she endured. She was part of Stephen Spielberg’s project to collect testimony from survivors. An interview on her life is housed at the Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C., with a copy at the Westport Library.
Janet donated wartime artifacts, documents and photos to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. She then arranged for the “Memories of a Child Lost” exhibit to be shown at Earthplace in 2008.
That’s very fitting. Janet was also a staunch protector of wildlife, through Earthplace and other organizations. An expert in wolf care and management, she presented many programs at area schools.
She was also an avid swimmer, well known at the Westport Weston Family Y. For 39 years, Janet was married to noted pediatrician Dr. Albert Beasley. The couple kept a low profile, but were beloved by all who knew them.
Like Jim and Janet, Ed Gallant suffered from cancer. But he too had an indomitable spirit, and supported causes that meant a great deal to him with energy and zeal.
Ed spent his career with Levi Strauss. Like many Westport executives, he commuted long hours and traveled often. But he found time to volunteer as an emergency medical technician. He was a strong supporter of the Westport Soccer Association and Staples High School soccer, long after his son Ted graduated. He was also a committed parishioner at Weston’s St. Francis of Assisi Church.
I thought of those three men and women, and their impacts on significant swaths of Westport’s population, last week, when word came that the board of directors of First Night Westport Weston had voted to dissolve their corporation and end the New Year’s Eve tradition that lasted here for over 20 years.
First Nights have been fading nationally for some time. With Westport’s demise, Hartford’s is the only one left in Connecticut.
There are many reasons for the demise of this family-friendly, alcohol-free event. Banks pulled back their sponsorships, for reasons both national (economic) and local (changes in management). As chains took over Main Street, Westport-based businesses that support the community have grown harder to find.
Freezing weather last year forced the cancellation of the signature fireworks event. Low attendance depleted the operating budget. Folks today have more options than ever for entertainment — including plenty of choices in their own homes.
But First Night Westport Weston was plagued with one more problem. Its board was filled with older folks. Though the New Year’s Eve celebration was heavy on kids’ activities, families and their children stopped coming out. A new generation did not step up to handle the countless organizational details needed to make a huge, spread-out event like this work.
This may not be a townwide problem. PTAs seem to be thriving. There was high energy and engagement during the recent election season.
But plenty of civic organizations share First Night’s concerns. They wonder where their next crop of workers, doers, movers and shakers will come from.
The commute to New York gets longer and longer. I-95 and Merritt traffic gets worse and worse. The demands on our lives get tougher and tougher.
Are there any — or enough — “new” Jim Goodriches, Janet Beasleys and Ed Gallants out there?
And if so, will they spend three or four decades here, adding whatever they can to make this town the special place it is?