Wilton columnist: Remembering Peter Kaskell

Stephen Hudspeth

Stephen Hudspeth

Staff / Hearst Connecticut Media

Peter Kaskell died peacefully in his sleep last month at 95. He was an enormous contributor to our state and nation from a young man who interrupted his college education to enlist, serving in Army intelligence during World War II, to his service as an attorney, corporate executive and general counsel and his work as a very generous and hands-on philanthropist in the decades thereafter. His passing leaves a huge hole in the hearts of his beloved wife Joan and their children and grandchildren and the many others of us who greatly loved and admired him.

Peter received the Bronze Star decoration and a battlefield commission for his exemplary service on the Italian front. At the beleaguered Anzio beachhead, he obtained intelligence from a captured German messenger and analyzed it carefully for credibility from multiple standpoints. His information enabled the break-out from the beachhead through the route his analysis revealed that led up a steep logging trail momentarily left unguarded between two huge German forces, one a parachute corps and the other a panzer corps. He was also awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government for his high-level service thereafter in the Army Group that included the French First Army as they moved through France and into Germany.

As the senior attorney for the Olin Corporation, he was well known for his leadership role within the company as its vice president and general counsel and also as an early and vigorous advocate in national legal circles for the use of mediation as an effective means of dispute resolution — a concept now widely accepted and encouraged in courts here and across the country.

He and his wife Joan’s philanthropy blessed the work of multiple nonprofits across our state and nation, and indeed the world. For example, he served on the board of directors of CARE and was very active with Family Re-Entry in its work with nonviolent prisoners here in Connecticut after their release from prison, with St. Matthew’s in its outreach work, and with other charities where he combined generosity in donations with active participation in the work itself as he did with Wi-ACT where he was an encouraging and empowering force in all of its work.

That work included something especially close to his and Joan’s heart: Wi-ACT’s annual Rise Against Hunger meal-packaging event with 750 volunteers each October packaging 160,000 meals right here in Wilton to feed children in educational settings around the world where they’re nourished in mind as well as in body. Peter regularly encouraged Wi-ACT’s steering committee, on which he served for years, to be thinking of ways to expand its efforts for the good. In fact, his thoughts were always focused on where his efforts could do the most good for others, and his contributions to the good enriched the lives of many.

What is not captured in this brief biographical sketch is the amazing breadth of the story of Peter. As a boy he escaped Nazi Germany thanks to farsighted parents who sent him to school in England as they themselves prepared their own escape. His German passport of that era shows his earnest young face with the eagle and swastika of the Nazi regime emblazoned alongside it.

The Peter most of us in Wilton knew, though, was the dignified and distinguished senior one — who nevertheless never took himself too seriously.

And he took younger folks like me under his wing, making sure we weren’t dawdling. So for example, if there was a magazine article I should be reading and reflecting upon, it would magically appear in my mailbox (the manual one, not electronic — Peter didn’t do email, though he did have a great electronic enabler in Joan), deposited on Peter’s way to the gym or a tennis game.

And I reciprocated, rather more selfishly however: I’d lay on Peter from time to time a column draft when I was struggling over a particularly thorny or sensitive subject locally or more broadly and sought his always wise counsel. His advice was candid and honest, whether on a column or when we served together on Wilton’s Council on Ethics. It was offered in a “Dutch Uncle” way when needed, but always with genuine concern and the endearing warmth that was Peter.

And who could forget Peter’s radiant smile that could light up a room, his graciousness in all things, and his insights that regularly helped to illuminate the best way forward. Peter’s regard for others and his constant thoughtfulness were hallmarks of his personality. We sorely miss him.