Tom Clark, 97, grocer, noted athlete
Thomas Walker Clark of 5 Danbury Road, a lifelong Ridgefielder and grocer who was celebrated for his bowling prowess and fund-raising abilities, died Monday, April 22, at the age of 97.
In his youth, Mr. Clark was active at baseball and basketball, but it was as a bowler that he became almost legendary locally. He started bowling when he was 15, still bowled in his 90s, and until recently was the oldest active bowler in the area.
Tom Clark was born here on July 26, 1904, a son of Irish immigrants John and Eliza Walker Clark. He grew up on the family farm on Wilton Road West, now the Shafer home, and as a teenager went to work at the Davey Brothers’ market in Stamford, part of an old chain of grocery stores. He did so well that he was made manager when he was only 17 — until company executives in New York learned his age and “then I had no job,” he said many years later.
He worked as a carpenter for some years, but in 1932 First National hired him to run its market in Ridgefield. He managed the First National here until 1959 when the chain wanted to transfer him to manage its supermarket in Newtown. Mr. Clark did not want to commute to work, retired from First National and went to work for the old Wayside Market on Danbury Road for 15 years. He also did work on two private estates until he was 85.
During World War II he served as a Civil Defense policeman and had recently presented his badge from that service to Police Chief Richard Ligi.
As a teenager, Mr. Clark began bowling in the two alleys in the basement of the First Congregational Church’s clubhouse, which once stood on West Lane. Throughout he life he used the same ball, a two-hole, 16-pound model that was so worn, the manufacturer’s name disappear decades ago. “I think it’s a Brunswick,” he told an interviewer, “but I can’t be sure.”
He belonged to the Danbury and Ridgefield Bowling Leagues, and was inducted into the Bowling Hall of Fame.
As a youngster, Mr. Clark, nicknamed Eagle Eye, was a basketball star in the days when games were played in the town hall on Main Street. “If the whole team scored 30 points, it was a big night,” he recalled.
He later coached the American Legion’s basketball team. He was also a softball player, and a former coach of the American Legion softball team.
In recent years, Mr. Clark has been active in the Ridgefield Old Timers Association. Last October, the organization’s annual dinner was dedicated to Mr. Clark, who had raised many thousands of dollars for scholarships. That year alone, when he was 96 years old, he collected more than $4,000 in donations. “Tom Clark has been and continues to be the association’s major fund-raiser,” Old Timers Chairman Tom Belote said at the dinner. “Over the years Tom has continued to dedicate his time and energy to ensure that the association’s scholarship fund would continue to benefit deserving Ridgefield High School graduates.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi called him the Old Timers’ Energizer Bunny — “he keeps on going and going, serving the association and Ridgefield High School scholarship recipients.”
Mr. Clark was a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge and of the First Congregational Church. He was a daily patron and “chairman of the board” at the Early Bird Café where he enjoyed discussing the “old days” with fellow old-timers.
He also enjoyed helping others and because his good health and eyesight allowed him to drive long after many contemporaries couldn’t, he had often served as a free taxi for Ridgefield’s elderly — some of whom were many years younger than he was.
When asked the secret of his longevity 12 years ago, Mr. Clark told The Press: “I haven’t had a glass of water in 60 years.” He added with a smile, “I use lots of butter, eat meat with plenty of fat, and use plenty of salt and pepper.”
“Tom knew how to live life to the full,” his family said.
Mr. Clark is survived by a daughter: Nancy Clark Parent of Ridgefield; two granddaughters: Linda Parent of Ridgefield and Diane Minck and her husband Chuck of New Milford; a goddaughter, Marlene Hancock of Ridgefield; and several nieces and nephews.
His wife, Ann Neil Hancock Clark, died in 1978, six weeks short of their 50th wedding anniversary. A son, Thomas W. Clark Jr., also died before him.
The Rev. Mark Allan, assistant rector, will lead services on Friday morning at 10 in the First Congregational Church. Burial will follow in Fairlawn Cemetery.
Friends may call at the Kane Funeral Home, 41 Catoonah Street, on Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Ridgefield Old Timers Association, P.O. Box 13, or to the Ridgefield Fire Department Ambulance Fund, 6 Catoonah Street, Ridgefield 06877.
John Corrie, 80, longtime watchmaker
John G. Corrie, a watchmaker and instrument technician who had lived in Ridgefield a half century, died early Wednesday morning, Jan. 9, at Mediplex of Danbury. He was 80 years old.
A native of Manchester, England, Mr. Corrie was born on Jan. 31, 1921, a son of John T. and Emily Jackson Corrie. He grew up in Manchester and during World War II, served in the Royal Air Force.
While stationed with the RAF in the Bahamas, Mr. Corrie visited New York City on leave. At a USO club there, he met Bronx native Marion Strick and the two were married June 4, 1944, two days before D-Day. He was reassigned to England and his wife joined him there in 1945.
The couple moved to the United States in 1946 and in 1951 came to Ridgefield where Mr. Corrie became the watchmaker for Craig’s Jewelry Store. He later joined the Perkin-Elmer Corp., working there as an instrument technician for many years.
In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Perkin-Elmer loaned Mr. Corrie to the U.S. Navy. He served for a year aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, in the Gulf of Tonkin, working on classified optics for aircraft cameras.
Throughout his years at Perkin-Elmer and after he retired, Mr. Corrie continued to work as a watchmaker from his homes on Governor Street and later North Salem Road. He fixed not only watches but clocks and clock-like mechanisms.
He loved his work, said his daughter, Joan Mannion of Ridgefield. She told of one case in which a customer brought in a broken, old slot machine for repair. “He found it fascinating,” Mrs. Mannion said. “He put in a thousand dollars worth of time and charged them only $50 because he enjoyed it so much.”
He worked on many of the antique clocks around town, including the large tower clock at the First Congregational Church.
Mr. Corrie was a member of the Knights of Columbus, in which he was a past grand knight, and had also belonged to the St. Mary’s Men’s Club and Rosary Society.
Mrs. Corrie died in 1994, just a few months short of their 50th wedding anniversary.
Besides Mrs. Mannion, Mr. Corrie is survived by three other daughters: Suzanne Corrie of Bridgeport, Eileen Graziano of Lewisville, Texas, and Kathleen Callender of Godmanchester, England; two sons: James P. Corrie of Berkeley, Calif., and Brian D. Corrie of Garden Grove, Calif.; a sister: Joan Dixon of England; 13 grandchildren, including: Colin Mannion of Ridgefield, Kyle Mannion of New Britain, and Michael Mannion of Running Springs, Calif.; a neice: Linda Maggs of Ridgefield; and nephews in both England and the United States.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 10:30 a.m. in St. Mary's Church. Burial will follow in St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Friends will be received at the Kane Funeral Home, 41 Catoonah Street, on Monday from 5 to 8 p.m.
Contributions in Mr. Corrie’s memory may be made to Hospice of Connecticut, 24 Wooster Avenue, Waterbury, CT 06708.
The Kane Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.
David Leitner, 57, interior designer
David M. Leitner of Saw Mill Hill Road, an interior designer and personal property appraiser, died Sunday, Dec. 16, in Norwalk as the result of an auto accident. He was 57 years old.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Leitner was born on May 11, 1944. He grew up in Massapequa, Long Island, and graduated from Parsons Institute of Design in New York. He had been in the interior design field throughout his career and specializing in antiques.
Mr. Leitner and his partner, Kenneth Leabman, moved here about 10 years ago.
Mr. Leitner is survived by Mr. Leabman, his life partner, as well as several cousins.
Graveside services will take place today, Thursday, Dec. 20, at 1 p.m., at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y.
Contributions in his memory may be made to a favorite charity.
The Kane Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
William Laviano, 60, legendary civil rights attorney, June 21
William M. Laviano, a civil rights attorney whose suits against the establishment -- the town, the school system, the state, the church -- were the stuff of local legend, died Friday, June 21, in Hilton Head, S.C. He was 60 years old, the husband of Donna R. Laviano, and had lived in Hilton Head the last few years, after passing the reins of his law practice to Jennifer Laviano, one of his four daughters.
Mr. Laviano spoke eloquently for the ideals of civil rights and civil liberties, and fought passionately for his clients. "When we were little we were taught the Bill of Rights was our Bible," Jennifer Laviano recalled. "That was the way we were supposed to live our lives."
He was also a go-for-the-throat litigator with a flair for tactics, theatrics and cases that attracted publicity. It made him unpopular in many circles, but that didn't seem to bother him. "He never wanted us, as children, to be embarrassed," his daughter recalled. "He wanted us to be proud that he was controversial."
Through much of the 1980s and 90s, he was a regular in local headlines. He brought a First Amendment suit against the Board of Education for censoring the high school literary magazine, Lodestar. When the town passed an ordinance against public drinking, he sued on behalf of a young man who liked to drink beer in parking lots. He sued the state for racist on-the-job treatment of a black state trooper and won a $750,000 judgment.
And in 1997 he won a case against the Diocese of Bridgeport for covering up misdeeds and reassigning an abusive priest. It helped build a legal foundation for many of the sexual abuse cases that have since been brought against the church.
As a young lawyer, Jennifer Laviano helped her father win a jury award for Frank Martinelli, a 50-year-old Wisconsin resident who more than 20 years before, as a devout Catholic teenager in Stamford, had suffered abuse by Father Laurence Brett. "I would say my Dad's greatest legacy as a lawyer, and the thing he was most proud of, was the Martinelli case," Ms. Laviano said. "At the time the case was being litigated, there weren't that many cases out there. He and I felt we were the Bad News Bears with that case, and we were going up against the Yankees."
"It was a lot of fun," Bill Laviano, flush with victory, said in a 1997 interview. He then rather gleefully described the strategic timing of his subpoena of Bishop of Bridgeport Edward Egan (now cardinal of New York) so the cleric would be frustrated at missing a big church meeting in Rome. Mr. Laviano then aggressively questioned the bishop to crack his demeanor as the kind and humble shepherd of the flock. "I zapped him with a subpoena right before he was to go to Rome and he couldn't leave the country unless his testimony was taken by videotaped deposition," Mr. Laviano said. "And you could see in his face the dynamics of wanting to appear benevolent before the jury but really not wanting to be there. Nobody in his world talks to him the way I talked to him...
"The important legal precedent established in the case, his daughter said, was that even if the abuse incidents were far in the past, the normal application of the statute of limitations was not valid in cases where the church had violated its "fiduciary duty" to look after the welfare of parishioners.
"The diocese owes a fiduciary duty to its parishioners, and they should not be allowed to fraudulently conceal the fact when they are aware a priest has molested a child," Ms. Laviano said. "They cannot rely on the statute of limitations when they fraudulently concealed the facts from the victim and family," she said. "That case set the precedent for a lot of clergy abuse cases that are now, obviously, a major issue in today's legal arena."
"On that case he was like a dog with a bone," she said of her father. "He wouldn't let anyone, including Egan, get away with not telling the truth."
Mr. Laviano also handled many employment cases -- including a highly publicized suit against the school board by a teacher dismissed for incompetence. And, he was a dedicated legal advocate for special education students and their parents.
"He was something," said Mary Gelfman, a Ridgefield attorney who works for the state as a special education hearing officer."He appeared before me representing parents of kids with disabilities, and he gave his all for his clients," she said. "He was a well-known figure in state special education circles. There are very few private attorneys who work in that field."
His daughter said, "He was a real advocate for special education children. He believed we need to be proactive and spend the money now on these children, so they can have productive lives. He was one of the first people in the state who really rocked the boat with school systems to make sure they were complying with federal special education laws."
"He's one of the people I will miss in this life," said Bob Cox. "...Most of the time I spent with him was either entertaining or enlightening, or both." A high school English teacher who was adviser to the Lodestar magazine, Mr. Cox got to know Mr. Laviano when the attorney represented its student editors against the school board.
"I admired him both as a civil advocate and as a friend," Mr. Cox said. "In all his work I always found him to put the best interests of children first, and he did that in his personal life as well. He was a great soul and I'm going to miss him."
Ms. Gelfman recalled Mr. Laviano's penchant for oddball cases. "He represented a lot of people that other people were reluctant to represent, and I always admired that," Ms. Gelfman said. "The legal system doesn't work unless people get representation. He represented a lot of people nobody else wanted to fool with. He took a lot of civil rights cases, and he did a good job."
Jennifer Laviano said, "As a lawyer what I most admired about my dad is he loPved the law. He was voracious about reading every case that came out. He never accepted case law as the answer -- he accepted it as a jumping off point for his next question. And most importantly he had serious guts, and he didn't care at all if he offended somebody by being aggressive as a litigant. And that is a rare combination. He was a brilliant man, just brilliant, and brilliant and courageous is something you don't get a lot of in the legal field these days."
She also recalled him as a father. "I think everyone who knew my dad knew he loved his family more than anything in the world," she said. "My father never refused a phone call, even when he was in deposition. He always took your call," she said. "He used to call home when an ambulance went by his office, to make sure it wasn't us in the ambulance."
Mr. Laviano was born in New York City, Dec. 20, 1941, son of Vito and Frieda Lanz Laviano. He grew up in Queens and Long Island, graduating from Huntington High School. He went to Western Kentucky State University on a tennis scholarship. He was married in 1965. He lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, in Seattle, and in Denver before moving to this area. He came to Ridgefield from Westchester County, N.Y., in 1970. He was an advertising copywriter, in the mortgage business, and in computer equipment rentals before earning his law degree from the University of Bridgeport in 1981.
Besides his daughter Jennifer of Danbury and his wife Donna, he is survived by three other daughters: Kristin Laviano Rhodes of Stratford, Lauren King of Hudson, Ohio, and Katie Laviano of Los Angeles, Calif.
There were services Tuesday at Sauls Funeral Home in Bluffton, S.C. A local memorial service will be arranged in the coming weeks.
Sister Reine LaFontaine, nurse, teacher
Sister Reine Marie LaFontaine, CND, known in religion as Sister St. Reine Marie, died at Danbury Hospital April 1. She was 92.
Sister Reine was born in Kankakee, Ill., on Nov. 15, 1909, daughter of the late Charles and Ida Caron LaFontaine. She attended St. Joseph Seminary and St. Mary Hospital School of Nursing in Kankakee where she received a registered nursing degree. She later obtained a bachelor of science degree from DePaul in Chicago and a master’s of arts in music from Columbia University.
Sister Reine entered the Congregation and made First Profession in January 1942 and made Final Profession in August 1947.
Sister Reine began her ministry of music education in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. She then taught music in New York and Waterbury, Bourbonais and Kankakee, Ill. She served as head nurse at the Congregation of Notre Dame in Ridgefield from 1968 to 1976. She engaged in parish ministry in Newington from 1976 to 1986 before returning to music ministry at the Congregation of Notre Dame, where she retired in 1997.
Sister Reine is survived by a nephew, Robert LaFontaine, and his wife Regina of Bradley, Ill.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Thursday, April 4, at 4:30 at the Congregation of Notre Dame on West Mountain Road. Burial will be in St. Peter’s Cemetery on Friday, April 5, at 9 a.m.
The Cornell Memorial Home, 247 White Street, Danbury is in charge of arrangements.
Kevin Kopins, former Ridgefielder
Kevin Graham Kopins of 84 Payne Road, Danbury, a former Ridgefielder, died unexpectedly on Aug. 5 while on vacation at his sister’s home in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was the son of John L. Kopins of Newtown and Joan M. Kopins of Delray Beach, Fla.
Mr. Kopins was born on Aug. 26, 1961 in New Rochelle, N.Y. He graduated from the Winchendon (Mass.) Academy and attended Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt.
Mr. Kopins enjoyed spending time with family and friends, his family said. He loved to travel, especially with his family. A memorable trip for all was made to Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
He was a customer service representative for CryoDyne Corp. of Danbury for a number of years and also worked for Air Gas Inc., of Danbury and Photronics Inc. of Brookfield before taking a leave of absence due to ill health. Mr. Kopins was a resident of Danbury for 18 years, and had previously lived on Marshall Road in Ridgefield.
Besides his parents, Mr. Kopins is survived by his grandparents James and Elizabeth Copeland of Boynton Beach, Fla.; his brother, J. Stephen Kopins of Boynton Beach; three sisters, Karen E. Kopins Shaw of Litchfield, Joni P. Carpenter of Southbury, and Susan E. Charles of Boynton Beach; several aunts, uncles, cousins and 12 nieces and nephews.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held privately for the family at Saint Thomas Moore Catholic Church in Boynton Beach, Fla.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the charity of one’s choice.