Former First Selectman Desmond remembered for warmth and integrity

In his short but consequential term as first selectman, Edward Desmond left a lasting impression on Wilton. Desmond, who led the town from 1987 to 1989 died Sunday, Sept. 25, in Delray Beach, Fla., at the age of 86. He had suffered from lung cancer, according to a friend.

A Republican, Desmond holds the distinction of being the first candidate for first selectman ever cross-endorsed by both the Republican Town Committee and Democratic Town Committee prior to his election in November 1987. “I feel very honored,” he said at the time.

Desmond ran as an incumbent, having been appointed first selectman in December 1986 to fill the unexpired term of Margaret Gill, who won election to the state House of Representatives in November 1986.

That cross-endorsement may have been earned not only for his leadership abilities but also because of his personality which was uniformly described as warm and outgoing by those who remembered him.

Former Police Chief Angelo Toscano became friends with Desmond in his pre-Wilton days when Desmond owned a convenience store in Westport.

“We used to go to the same restaurant,” Toscano told The Bulletin earlier this week. “He was a very social guy, outgoing, liked to help people. He was very giving and very generous.”

Desmond had a varied background. A native of Lynn, Mass., he enlisted in the U.S. Army upon graduating from high school. Following his graduation in 1954 from Plymouth State College in New Hampshire, he took a position as a teaching principal at the Pine Tree School in Conway, N.H. He earned a master’s in education from Boston University in 1958.

In addition to working as a teacher, he owned a real estate and construction business in Plymouth from 1960 to 1964, when he came to Connecticut, again as a teacher. He moved into administration in 1966 and served as comptroller of the Westport schools from 1972 to 1977. There he worked with long-time friend Janet Bondeson.

Following the discovery of some financial discrepancies within the Wilton schools, Desmond was brought on as director of management services from 1977 to 1983, where he oversaw finances and human resources.

David Clune came on board as superintendent of schools in 1982.

“I remember him as a welcoming person to me when I first came to Wilton,” Clune said upon learning of Desmond’s death. “It was good to have a strong person like Ed in charge of finances for the Wilton schools.

“Ed was a friend. He was a very talented, outgoing, warm and generous person,” he continued. “We will miss him.”

While working for the school district, Desmond brought on Bondeson as his assistant.

“He was just a delight to work for,” she said. “He was an honest man, a very generous man with his time to the community.

“He treated everybody the same. If you were the superintendent of schools or a custodian, he treated everybody the same,” she said. “Your position meant nothing to him as far as him respecting you. He looked at each person as an individual. He got along with everyone.

“We worked very closely,” she said. “I had a wonderful career and most of it was because of him.”

Bondeson, who would later become Wilton’s chief financial officer, eventually replaced Desmond at the school district when he resigned in 1984, but as a testament to all he did, she said, when he left “they had to split his job” in two.

When Desmond left at the age of 54, to become a consultant to the school district, he told The Bulletin, “It’s my mid-life career change. I plan on living to 108.”

Sadly, he did not live to that age, but he had more than one career after that.

Toni Boucher, now Wilton’s state senator, was first elected to the Wilton Board of Education in 1987, the same year Desmond ran uncontested for first selectman. His experience with the school district and finances stood him in good stead for his new job.

“He knew the school system and the roads in Wilton were awful,” at that time, she said. “A lot were dangerously narrow and gravel with no curbs.” Old Wagon Road, in particular she recalled, was a dirt road with a huge hill. The unimproved roads made for dangerous conditions for school buses.

Along with straightening out the school district’s finances, Desmond’s big municipal achievement was embarking on Wilton’s “first massive road program,” she said, which had to be bonded.

As a result, roads were paved and widened. Those that were one lane were made into two. Curbs were put in. “He made it very safe and more contemporary. That’s really the legacy Ed Desmond left the town,” Boucher said.

The expensive program was not embraced by all, and Desmond only served one full term. In 1989, the RTC did not renominate him.

Nevertheless, Boucher said of his road program, “in the long-term, looking back, it was what the town needed.”

When he completed his term as first selectman, Toscano said, Desmond and his wife Dorothy moved to Florida. Because he was in a new business — institutional furniture — Desmond commuted back to Connecticut and would stay with Toscano at his home in Darien. Toscano retired in 2000 and eventually moved to Stuart, Fla.

“I stayed friends with Eddie,” he said, adding the two often met for lunch or dinner. Bondeson said although he moved away, Desmond kept in touch with a number of Wilton friends.

“I didn’t see him but we would talk once in awhile,” Bondeson said. “I am going to miss him a lot.”

Desmond is survived by his wife Dorothy. The couple had no children. There will be no services, Toscano said, per Desmond’s wishes.