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New London — Hundreds of Whalers, many clad in green and gold, packed the stands at the New London High School football field late Wednesday afternoon to remember Barbara Major — a city native, the longtime Republican registrar of voters and “the matriarch of New London football.”
New Londoners of all stripes — Major’s family, her friends and neighbors, Whaler football alumni, current New London High School students and athletes, and city and elected officials — shared their memories of Major’s kindness, the feasts she prepared for the football team, her infectious laugh and Sunday morning chats over cups of coffee on her front porch.
“The people here tonight are a testament to what Barbara Major meant to us,” said Louis E. Allen, the former school administrator, coach and longtime friend of the Major family.
Major died last Thursday at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital after a long illness. She was 61.
In addition to working as a registrar of voters — a job she held for almost 20 years — Major also served two terms on the Board of Education, was secretary of New London Little League, was a coordinator for the New London High School football camp and was a member of the New London Lodge of Elks and the Kiwanis Club of New London.
She was married to Tommie Major, director of the city’s recreation department, former football player and longtime high school football coach, and had five children.
“Barbara and I have been together since we were 14 years old; through good, bad, whatever happens,” Tommie Major said. “They were good years.”
Major was “the glue of our family and this community,” one of her three sons, Tommie, said.
“My mom would have done anything for any kid or any family in this community, and she did,” he said, recalling the Easter Sunday that Major, dressed as a princess, rode around in a convertible and tossed candy out the window for the neighborhood children.
“She just loved all kids. It was her mission to take care of everyone,” he said. “She understood the meaning of ‘it takes a village.’ My mom’s village was New London, and she made New London proud.”
Major grew up at 38 School St., where she would raise her own children and hold court with friends or neighbors on the front porch.
Whether her sons were playing at the time or not, Major was a staple at New London High football games and would park her car by the corner of the field for every game.
When the Whalers were playing for a state championship at Ansonia in the early 1990s, her son Tommie said, Major told the guards that she was to sing the national anthem so she could drive closer to the field and park in her usual spot.
“Whaler pride is alive. Everyone talks about New London, how New London’s broken and it’s not a community,” one of Major’s two daughters, Melissa Ford, said as she surveyed the green and gold crowd. “Well, this shows everyone is wrong.”
During Wednesday’s memorial, current Whaler football players released bundles of green, gold and white balloons.
“What Barbara stood for is community, this wonderful family and our students,” Allen said. “And as time goes on, if we remember that, what Barbara’s legacy was, Barbara’s not gone. She’s still going to be in our heart.”