Out of the Woods: Ruth Bedford was a model for Westport's wealthy
Updated 12:10 pm, Thursday, November 6, 2014
If there was one person among the nearly one thousand Westporters I interviewed for my book on Westport's history who personified the generosity of some of the wealthiest members of our community, it was the classy, independent Ruth Thomas Bedford.
According her official obituary, she was extraordinary and -- above all -- "a woman far ahead of her time." She set an example in philanthropy by bequeathing $40 million to the Foxcroft School, a girls' boarding school in northern Virginia that Ms. Bedford attended from 1928 to 1932. It was the largest gift ever bestowed to a secondary school nationwide, according to school officials.
Bedford, who died June 15 in her Greens Farms home at age 99, was the daughter of Frederick T. and Lucie Thomas Bedford. She would have celebrated her 100th birthday Aug. 8. She was the last surviving grandchild of Westport philanthropist Edward T. Bedford, founder of the Westport Weston Family Y and after whom its new Mahackeno facility and Bedford Middle School are named.
Ruth Bedford worked in social services after graduating from the Foxcroft School. She served with the American Red Cross in the European theater during World War II. She also was deeply involved in the New York theater, working for Rodgers and Hammerstein as a stage manager on a number off Broadway shows.
I found her most cordial and polite -- with an excellent memory for details -- when I interviewed her in her home in the late 1990s. She spoke clearly and concisely and made it a point to allow time for me to take notes, something she had no doubt learned as a public figure dealing with newspaper reporters.
She was a woman of diverse interests -- a licensed sea-plane pilot, accomplished sailor, golfer, tennis player and an award-winning horsewoman.
Upon to Connecticut after the war, Bedford volunteered at Norwalk Hospital for more than 50 years.
Her obituary commented: "According to newspaper accounts during her life, she made a difference in many people's lives by following her father's and grandfather's example by supporting many organizations and charities.
The town of Westport, Norwalk Hospital and many other charities and individuals have been the beneficiary of her generosity and kindness. Her grandfather's horses, ridden under the Nyala Farm name, won races at Belmont, Saratoga and other East Coast racetracks.
The Bedford estate, with its extensive gardens on Beachside Avenue, was the site of many Sunday afternoon walks and rides for local people. It became so popular that postcards depicting the gardens sold well. The garages, two farms and exotic fruit orchards stood across the street from the main house and were all part of the estate. E.T. Bedford enjoyed the garden, but it was his horses that captivated him and, at age 78, he was still riding his horse, "Diplomat," over the half-mile track on his grounds.
Westport has had -- and still has -- a great many families of wealth. Let's hope that many of them will take a page out of Ruth Bedford's book.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org