Grimsey honored for his long dedication to the Niantic River
Waterford ― Fred Grimsey’s love for the water was more than a Dalliance, despite the name he gave the sailboat that he skippered up and down the coastline for decades until his death last week at age 90.
The water became his calling, so much so that despite a life that included helping launch the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, deep involvement in the former American Dance Festival at Connecticut College as well as the National Theatre of the Deaf and many years as a professor of theater, his daughter said he’d probably most like to be known as an environmentalist.
“He loved the Niantic River,” said Elizabeth Caruso in a phone interview. “That was heaven for him.”
Grimsey was remembered Tuesday at a ceremony in the Mago Point section of town for co-founding the environmental group Save the River/Save the Hills and, in 2001, developing the first Niantic River pumpout boat program.
During the event attended by about 100 people, First Selectman Rob Brule proclaimed Tuesday as Fred Grimsey Day in Waterford, only the second townsperson after Eugene O’Neill center founder George White to have received the honor during his four years in office.
“Already we miss him,” Brule said during a ceremony at the Daversa Partners office building overlooking the Niantic River.
“I know Fred’s here with us in spirit,” said state Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford.
Grimsey got the idea for acquiring the initial pumpout boat from a trip he and his wife took to the Hudson River in New York, where he chanced upon a boat called the Clearwater that he helped repair. Crew members on the boat introduced him to the idea of keeping local waters clean by pumping out the heads, which are onboard bathrooms, of vessels that otherwise would have dumped their waste into the Niantic River.
Even some members of Grimsey’s family didn’t know until Tuesday that he had mortgaged his own home Waterford to pay for the river’s first pumpout boat, which he manned for the first several years ― and four grandchildren subsequently did the same. The boat runs from Memorial Day to the end of November, four days a week, and pumps an estimated 20,000 gallons of waste every year.
“Thank you to the whole extended Grimsey family for all you have done,” said Deb Moshier-Dunn, vice president of Save the River/Save the Hills. “Fred was a visionary always willing and eager to put in the hard work.”
Grimsey was quite involved in efforts to buy a new pumpout boat that was unveiled for the first time Tuesday, and he hoped to attend the event but fate intervened. Instead, his wife Cordette was asked to christen the boat, which has been named the Clearwater II ― family members had jokingly suggested the moniker Fred’s Head.
The boat was purchased with help from the federal Clean Vessels Act that provides 75% of the funding. Most of the rest of the money comes from local sources, including businesses and private donations.
Moshier-Dunn called Grimsey a Renaissance man with grit who made things happen.
“Whenever he saw an issue he would learn everything he could about it,” she said. “Recently, he was reading up on environmental law. He was very inspiring.”
Cordette remembers meeting Fred for the first time when they were in a Pratt Institute production of the Shakespeare play “Twelfth Night.”
“He made her laugh,” said daughter Elizabeth, who also recalled her dad’s great tenor voice and ability to play guitar.
He was Mr. Fix-it as well, doing everything around the house and once overseeing a major addition.
He was the first technical director of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, initially known as the Waterford Foundation for the Performing Arts. He founded the Community Theater Council, served on the town Board of Finance and on the Oswegatchie School Building Committee.
Initially, he worked at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in Middletown, winning a patent in 1959, and then at Electric Boat before deciding he “could not continue to make weapons of mass destruction,” said Elizabeth.
Instead, he joined the faculty of Connecticut College as lecturer in theater and dance production and served as technical director and theater manager for Palmer Auditorium. Toward the end of his Conn career in the 1980s, he became engineering supervisor.
Son Sean remembers the only time his dad got mad at him was when he ran Grimsey’s precious boat the Dalliance aground in the Niantic River.
“He asked me if I knew the channel, and I said ‘I got it,’” Sean said. “After it ran aground I heard a lot of noise coming from the cabin.”
In addition to his work for Save the River/Save the Hills, Grimsey started the Niantic River Appreciation Day Kayak Regatta in 2004, served on the Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission and the Niantic River Gateway Commission as well as the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Long Island Sound Study.
In 2018, by federal decree, a stretch of his Niantic River waterfront was dedicated as Grimsey Beach to honor his contributions to the Connecticut shoreline.
Grimsey had four children with wife Cordette: Chris, Sean, Colin and Elizabeth.
A celebration of Grimsey’s life will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 11, in the Blaustein Humanities Center at Connecticut College.
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