March 16, 2013
This morning we laid Dwight to rest in Easton’s Center Street Cemetery where he joined his parents, Willard and Ethel, and his grandparents, Iverson and Emma. Indeed he is surrounded by Fantons who settled in Weston in the 1680s. A few years ago he and I did an oral history , traveling from his early home in New Rochelle, to Yale, through Bridgeport and Trumbull where we lived after the war and then all around Weston, Easton and Fairfield.
My most vibrant memories of my father go back to the late 40s and early 50s – our modest house at 11 Edgewood Avenue in Trumbull, our cocker spaniel, Rusty, the backyard vegetable garden, sailing at the Black Rock Yacht Club, catching crabs off my uncle’s boat in Chesapeake Bay, going with my father to Yankee games, Saturday afternoons at the Loews Poli Theater in Bridgeport, doing my Sunday school lessons with him, attending my first political rally. He liked Ike and so did I.
How fortunate I was to have a father so deeply engaged in every part of my life, always there for me.
And how fortunate we all are that Dwight was our friend, our mentor, our anchor in good times and bad for almost 98 years. Early on I knew there was something special about him. A warmth, an empathy, a love deeply felt if not always expressed.
I saw his ability to mediate difficult labor disputes in post-war Bridgeport because both sides trusted him, respected his fairness, his ability to bridge differences without compromising core principles.
He loved Bridgeport, working a lifetime at Pullman and Comley, chairing the Red Cross and United Way, helping build the University of Bridgeport, representing good companies like Hubbell and hospitals like Bridgeport and St. Vincent’s. Building community and giving back were core values I learned from him.
I watched him as a prosecutor and judge in the Trumbull Town Court, admiring his intelligence, perceptive insight into people’s character and motivations, and good judgment in resolving disputes.
As I speak, I can see lively conversations with Bill Pearl, with whom he worked on the prosecution team at the Dachau Tribunals pursuing justice for senior Nazi military officers. It pleased me some years later to connect him by phone to the Prosecutor of the new International Criminal Court who acknowledged the critical role of Nuremberg and Dachau in laying the ground work for the International Criminal Court.
Justice was a central theme in Dwight’s life as he pursued a more just and humane world at peace. He inspired my own work in human rights which strengthened the bond between us as I pursued his vision of a democratic Europe free of authoritarian rule.
I am grateful for all I have learned from him – optimism beats despair, humor brings perspective, hard work is essential, a competitive spirit is liberating, patient courage of your convictions will prevail, helping others is the greatest reward, humility is a source of strength, and there is nothing more important than family and friends.
He was blessed with a family who loved and respected him. And with colleagues and friends overflowing this church who filled his life with joy and challenges which kept him razor sharp until the very end. I especially appreciate his warm welcome when Cynthia joined our family, two lawyers who instantly connected.
And Roma, your devotion to Dwight is one of the most moving love stories of all time. My last conversation with him alone was about you, his respect for your intelligence, his admiration of your character, his appreciation for your love and loyalty.
All of us who love Dwight are in your debt.
Let me close with a reflection from Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin:
“The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. And the only way to have a good death is to lead a good life. Lead a good one, full of curiosity, generosity, and compassion, and there’s no need at the close of the day to rage against the dying of the light. We can go gentle into that good night.”
Dwight lived a good life and now has gone gently into the good night.