More than half a century in Wilton: Greene looks back on service

Ned Greene, of Whitewood Road, has been involved with just about every board and committee that makes up Wilton’s political scene. During his 50-plus years as a Wilton resident, he has served as a member of Wilton’s first five-man Board of Selectmen in 1963, as a chairman of the Police Commission, and as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, among others. 

For Mr. Greene, politics was as much about a sense of duty as it was something to help keep himself busy. Even now, he still takes care to watch every Board of Selectmen meeting on community television.

“You pick a major hobby,” Mr. Greene said from his home on Monday. “You may join a church group, or another organization. Or you can regard the town as your hobby. Moving through all of the boards and commissions. It’s your contribution to society outside of work.”

Back in 1963, Mr. Greene was elected to represent the town as a member of the first five-person Board of Selectmen. The five-member board has remained a staple of Wilton’s local government since that time.

A need for better representation of citizens, Mr. Greene said, was the impetus for the mid-century change.

“We decided we needed broader representation of Wilton’s population,” he said. “It was also about making it an easier process. If one person couldn’t make a meeting, we could still get to a majority.”

The town had been growing in size in the early 60s, Mr. Greene said, because of its convenience for a New York City commute.

“The town was growing. It was convenient to New York City, and it was also convenient to the ocean,” he said. At the same time it was beginning to take on more of a commuter culture, he added.

As for himself, Mr. Greene chose to live in Wilton for those same reasons. He initially commuted from Rowayton to a public relations position in New York, but later settled on Wilton.

Compared to today, Mr. Greene said, he sees little change in Wilton’s spirit of inter-party competition. Democrats and Republicans, he said, have always been working toward a common goal. The current personal dedication to the town by its leadership, he said, is especially similar to his time on the board.

Citing an example regarding former First Selectman Vincent Tito, he said political leaders in Wilton were informal and hands-on during his time.

“Once, Vinny Tito was late to a meeting. He said it was because he had to drive a load of clothing to Bridgeport. He was literally driving a load of clothing to an organization that needed it, clothing that had been collected in Wilton for a donation,” Mr. Greene said.

One of Wilton’s most significant changes, he said, was the rise of people coming to town for short periods of time. When he moved here, Mr. Greene said, most people were here for much of their lives.

“A lot of people stayed in town for the long haul,” he said. “A recent habit people have is to come here, send their kids through the school system, and then move north or back to the city.”

A fourth-generation Manhattan kid, Mr. Greene was raised by a school teacher and a physician whose careers represented the opposite of the gender roles that would have been expected by society at the time.

His father taught shop and English at a public high school — “an interesting combination,” Mr. Greene said — while his mother was a practicing physician who was once the head of a Red Cross organization during World War I.

“My mother was the head of a Red Cross organization working in Paris and elsewhere. My father went over as a volunteer ambulance driver. He eventually joined the French army, and then the American army,” he said. “They met on the way home from Europe.”

The family’s summer home, Mr. Greene said, was hand-built by his father out of an old two-car garage.

As for himself, Mr. Greene was a staff sergeant with American air forces during World War II, and served in the Pacific theater. He was involved in many island campaigns, but specifically recalled participating in the capture of Kwajalein Atoll, a part of the Marshall Island chain.

He left the army in 1946, becoming a student at Yale University where he studied psychology. Though his mother “would have loved” it if he had chosen to study medicine, he wasn’t very interested in it at the time.

Instead, he became a manager at a now-defunct public relations firm, a career that was somewhat accidental.

“I was a good writer, and if you are a writer, you have to make a living. You need to work for someone who needs information distributed — a person to represent a client on all forms of media,” he said.

What made his post a specialty position, he said, was the need for him to analyze and understand the many aspects of public relations.

“What made it a specialty was the many different ‘publics’ that exist. Physicians, for instance, are a certain kind of public. There are literally dozens of different publics to understand,” he said.