A View From Glen Hill: Remembering a local leader

The scene was a remarkable one this past February between Holocaust survivor Judith Altmann, of Stamford, and World War II veteran David Bloomer, of Wilton. She had been held in Bergen-Belsen while only a teenager, and he had been one of the British soldiers who liberated that horrendous concentration camp.

Judith Altmann came to Wilton that day, as she has done a half-dozen times over as many years, to speak with a church youth group about her experiences. Her work with youth and student groups as well as with adults around the world — including even in Germany, in presentations that are as inspiring as they are graphic — was recognized by Fordham University with an honorary doctorate awarded to her last month.

Judith’s profound thank-you to David and their warm embrace at the end of her presentation in February were deeply moving. Barely two months after that meeting, David died at the age of 93.

Rising to the rank of captain commanding a British Army infantry company, David arrived with his unit in Normandy one week after D-Day and served thereafter in the Battle of the Bulge and at the Remagen Bridge crossing of the Rhine into Germany and from there, to Bergen-Belsen’s liberation. He was twice wounded in action and was mentioned in dispatches for going behind lines to recover bodies of men killed in action.

Vigorous and active to the very end of his life, David played a significant role in many Wilton civic organizations and in his church. Focusing on just one of those roles here, David was a key member of Wi-ACT’s Steering Committee, its 34-member governing board, and chair of its annual Benefit Concert from inception right through to shortly before his death — and Wi-ACT very fittingly dedicated this spring’s Benefit Concert to his memory.

It has been said, “What would happen if we welcomed the stranger with radical hospitality?” David knew the answer to that question as he lived out his life seeing that all of us as a community answered that question with a resounding affirmation. Wi-ACT’s volunteers — as well as those they serve — have been enormously enriched as a result of working together across the lines of 10 Wilton faith institutions — Christian, Jewish and Muslim — to build community among themselves even as they work together to help others.

David’s participation in leadership included his role in Wi-ACT’s meal-packaging work done each October. In that full-day event, 750 volunteers work in four two-hour shifts throughout the day to package 165,000 meals that feed more than 450 children for an entire year, wherever in the world the need is greatest in educational settings where the children served are nourished in mind as well as in body.

His leadership role also extended to Wi-ACT’s refugee resettlement work where he helped with its first resettlement a half-dozen years ago of an Iraqi family and was one of the leaders again this year in encouraging Wi-ACT to return to refugee resettlement in light of the Syrian refugee crisis, and then to take on the challenges of resettling a large family. Wi-ACT did so with resettlement, beginning in mid-March of a family of six consisting of a young widowed mother and her five children, ages 2 to 12 — a resettlement moving forward very successfully.

David’s leadership was always inspirational, as was his caring and thoughtfulness for those in need wherever in the world they might be. In the words of one Wi-ACT Steering Committee member, “He brought a joyful light to us all.” Another said, “He taught me so much about growing old with grit, humor and elegance.” And yet another added, “He was an absolute joy to be around with his insightful, caring and sensitive personality; our world became a little less brilliant with his passing.”

His understated wry humor regularly mixed with a forthrightness that was always tempered with unfailing graciousness, and his wonderfully erudite British pronunciations gave added weight to statements of viewpoint that were always so well-expressed that, in fact, they needed no extra weight to carry the day.

As he did with so many organizations, David gave to Wi-ACT the full measure of his enormous heart, insightful intellect, and boundless energy to see that it truly lives out its motto, “We act together for good.” As another Wi-ACT Steering Committee member perfectly summed it up, “Through the last days of his life, he was selflessly thinking of others and working to make a difference in the world.” He is sorely missed.