Kent community mourns death of six-term first selectman
Updated 11:29 pm, Monday, September 14, 2015
KENT — Eugene “Rusty” O’Meara became a beloved member of the community for his decades of service to the town.
O’Meara, 84, died Wednesday at his home in Kent. He had served as first selectman from 1969 to 1981.
He has been remembered for his role as a founder of the nonprofit Kent Village Housing for the Elderly, launching the town’s sewer treatment plant and modernizing the town’s fiscal budget.
“Rusty was honest as the day is long and totally reliable,” Selectman Mary “Susi” Williams said. “I grew up across the street from him. He was my dear friend. We were lucky to have him as first selectman for six terms.”
Williams was the town tax collector during O’Meara’s term as first selectman. She pointed out he initiated the town’s capital and non-recurring expenses, now known as the Capital Fund.
“Those were the days,” Williams said. “We got 16 percent on the town’s investments. Rusty would have me get that money in as fast as possible.”
Born in 1931 in Norwalk, O’Meara moved to Kent with his parents in 1942. He began a long association in 1947 with Camp Po-ne-mah, a summer boarding camp in town for girls.
O’Meara attended Fairfield University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1954. He then made several trips to Europe, and went to Spain to study Spanish in 1960.
He returned to Kent in 1966, after four years in the Intentional Division of the Irving Trust Co., a bank in New York City.
O’Meara entered Kent politics when he returned to town, serving on the Kent Zoning Board of Appeals, the original Sewer Commission, and then running for and winning six terms as first selectman.
He eventually took over Camp Po-ne-mah and converted it into a co-ed day camp.
Karina O’Meara described her father as “patient” and “curious.”
“Genuinely kind and interested in other people,” she said. “He could get anyone into a conversation and get stories out of them.”
She remembers when he visited her while she was studying in Jordan.
“I have this memory of sitting with my father and the men in my host Bedouin family,” Karina O’Meara said.
“I was interpreting for Dad, and one of my hosts asked him if he ever struck his children. I interpreted Dad’s ‘Oh, no never’ response and still remember the look on their faces.
“My father did more in that single response — bringing meaningful conversations with children you were disciplining — to that traditional Bedouin village than I had through months of explaining,” she said with a laugh.
After politics, O’Meara formed a high tech startup that made specialized machines for pharmaceutical research applications. He sold the company in 1995 and spent the next 16 years as a faculty spouse.
He and his wife, Ruth, and their three children moved near the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs, where Ruth did her graduate work. She then taught in private schools until retiring in 2011.
“I’d bought a house in Kent, and I asked Mom and Dad to come and live with me,” Karina O’Meara said. “When mom retired in 2011, they did.
“Dad loved walking to the post office, to the library in the afternoon, talking to everyone he met on the street.
“He was so happy to be back in his hometown.”