View from Glen Hill: Louise Herot — Effectively combining kindness and candor

Louise Herot never arrived at a meeting — even one she chaired, and there were many of those indeed for organizations all over town — without having in hand wonderful baked goodies of her own creation in quantity sufficient to feed all of those in attendance and then some! And that’s just where her sweetness began.
Her sudden passing a month ago left those who knew her stunned. One could recently see some physical health issues, yet even at 90 years of age she still faithfully attended meetings, and often led them, doing so almost to the end. But that was very much Louise. Her volunteer work in town took many different forms: service on the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education, service as president both of the League of Women Voters and of the Wilton Library Association, leadership roles on two town Charter commissions including the one that wrote Wilton’s first town Charter following adoption of municipal home rule by our state in the 1950s, and her leadership in town interfaith work which this paper described in its front-page coverage of her passing and which I won’t repeat.
What I will do here is to underscore Louise’s special quality of sweetness. Whether in a smile that lit up her face as much as it would warm the viewer, or in a kind and thoughtful gesture perfectly suited to the needs of its recipient, her sweetness was always evident. Yet that sweetness was never saccharin. It came with forthrightness and a willingness to take on tough issues — but always doing so with love and concern for the other person even if that person’s views in question were very different from Louise’s own.
Some — ones who definitely didn’t know Louise — might term this “civility” and think that word fully captures the concept as she reflected it. But her gift of lovingly expressed forthrightness was much more profound than even that important word denotes and connotes. It reflected her desire and ability to see the best in every person and to encourage that best — doing so as necessary with candor expressed lovingly, but firmly nonetheless. Having been on the grateful receiving end of that gracious candor, I can personally attest to how effective her transcendent form of civility was and how much I wish I could emulate the depths of Louise’s mastery of it, for in this she was truly a Zen master!
One also knew that Louise’s enormous intellect, combined with her unflagging persistence, when applied to any issue — however thorny — would lead to a really good and effective resolution. That resolution would be one arrived at by consensus and not by fiat, but it would nonetheless carry the mark of Louise’s insightful analysis and her determination always to do not just something good (important as that is) but the best thing possible in the circumstances. Whether for a series topic or an individual session in the library’s and historical society’s very popular American history series — that was in the planning stages for its 11th year under Louise’s diligent and highly effective leadership at the time of her death — or thinking through next steps in everything from town governance to refugee resettlement, her mind was spinning new ideas and taking group discussions of these subjects in engaging directions, and her meticulous post-meeting written summaries assured that key points weren’t lost with the passage of time and that overall objectives remained in sharp focus.
Some of Louise’s sophistication in analysis was undoubtedly the product of her background in mathematics to the level of a Ph.D. and her teaching of it during her professional life, but the rest of it seemed to have come from a depth of spirit — an “old-soul” appreciation of the world in both its lofty grandeur and its mundane foibles — that had nothing to do with chronological age and everything to do with great maturity of insight. She would never overbearingly dump those insights upon you, but she would offer them if you asked and, gently but firmly even if you didn’t ask if it was evident that you needed help in finding your way.
And that was a great gift that all of us will miss every bit as much as we will miss her radiant smile. We will have a chance to celebrate Louise’s many gifts to us all at a memorial service to be held at Wilton Library at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct 15.