Generosity in spirit and reality

Stephen Hudspeth

Stephen Hudspeth

Staff / Hearst Connecticut Media

This column needed to be submitted well before election day; so as I write this, I have no idea of the outcome. What I can say is what I’m sure that most, if not all, of us in town feel: that we are very fortunate to have a great array of candidates with very diverse backgrounds that give a variety of well-informed outlooks on how our town should work.

They’re also a wonderfully diverse group in age, both young and old and many in between, which also speaks well for the future governance of our town. All but one, the first selectperson, serve in unpaid positions. And in that regard, I’m reminded of Board of Finance candidate Michael Kaelin’s remark at the League of Women Voter’s candidates forum several weeks ago. It was certainly humorous and got a big laugh from the audience but nonetheless had a quite serious element too: When Mike told his wife that he was considering running for the Board of Finance, Carol (who always supports Mike wonderfully in his work) replied in words to this effect: “Why do you keep doing this to yourself?!”

Carol undoubtedly meant her remark jokingly. However, the fact is that Mike, like so many of his fellow candidates this year, has served in multiple town-board positions, all unpaid and all quite demanding in both meeting time and preparation time. That’s quite a load to carry especially on top of a very demanding full-time job, and these candidates certainly know — many from their own first-hand experience — just how much of a burden that is. Our town would be much worse off without their service freely and gladly given, and we are all the richer for it.

People serve our town in many different ways. One excellent example is that of Rudolph Bratz whose untimely passing on Sept. 19 at the age of 61 was a real tragedy. As befits Rudy’s caring personality, he died peacefully in his sleep.

Rudy was a continual source of great vehicle maintenance insights from his post at Wilton’s NAPA store. No matter what the age of his customer’s car, he’d offer very helpful information. Often he’d go outside — even though in more recent times he’d have to limp slowly to get there — to inspect the vehicle’s issue first-hand himself and then dispense his always sage advice. That advice was rendered with the same care and attention whether it was sale-producing or not. He exemplified the vintage image of a small-town merchant professional who is there to help his customer as much as to sell.

For many of us, Rudy was even more than that: a friend who faithfully radiated warmth and caring and who pressed through — determinedly and courageously still working as much as he could — even as a gravely progressive illness took its toll. His mind remained as sharp as ever, as did his wonderful wit, and it was always a special pleasure to walk into his store and get a fresh dose of “Rudy warmth.”

Way back when we did one of my first sermon-plays (as we call them) for sixth and seventh graders in church school and I needed a steering wheel as a prop, I approached Rudy about buying one if he had a used one available. He had not just one but two, and he simply gave both to me without charge, saying that for a good cause, he was glad to give them away. They worked beautifully as props multiple times over three decades.

For my most recent sermon-play this past winter, I wrote in a short speaking part specifically for Rudy with some automobile-related humor. I knew he would be a big hit, and not just because in his younger years he looked like actor Dan Ackroyd and in his later years like author (and sometime actor) Stephen King. Rather, it was because his warmth radiated from his tall frame and his big smile, and he knew how to deliver a humorous line perfectly!

A town is truly blessed when it has a Rudy. And while Wilton’s Rudy was undoubtedly unique in his many engaging specifics, there are other Rudys in spirit and approach in all sorts of roles here in town who carry on that tradition of selfless service and who radiate caring and warmth as a regular part of their work. That’s part of what makes a large town in population a small town in experience. And that’s for sure a very special part of living here.