By Meg Barone

Bruce Searl Kershner collected many things in his 80 years, most notably china from private yachts and hotels, silver-plated flatware, ashtrays with commercial advertising, antique furniture, postcards and, judging by those who attended his memorial service Saturday, many close friends.

"Bruce was the consummate collector. But what defined his passion for collecting was his truly eclectic group of friends, including all of you here today, whom he considered family," said Charles Minotti, of Milford, to about 150 people gathered at First Church Congregational.

They came to pay tribute to Kershner, a retired director of the Fairfield Public Library, who died Nov. 20, two days after his 80th birthday.

An Ohio native, Kershner maintained residences in Southport and Palm Beach, Fla. Friends said he was proud of his Fairfield Burr family lineage -- his mother was Eunice Dennie Burr Kershner. He was also proud of having a room in the Fairfield Library named in his honor. The Bruce S. Kershner Gallery was a tribute befitting the man so loved and respected by people of the town of Fairfield, Minotti said.

David Walenczyc, of Westport, talked about his accidental friendship with Kershner. He said he and another friend received a dinner invitation from Kershner shortly after all of them had attended the same party, but Walenczyc said he could not recall making Kershner's acquaintance. After attending several more social events together Kershner admitted he couldn't remember meeting Walenczyc at the original party either. They remained good friends since.

Courtney Earley, of Lake Worth, Fla., said Kershner's warmth and genuine affection were contagious. He said it was not uncommon for Kershner to make friends easily, and he likened the former library director to the literary and film character Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. Lightyear's catch phrase is, "Never give up, never give in, never surrender. Earley said, if Kershner had a catch phrase it would be, "Be positive, be kind to others and be prepared to listen."

"He touched many lives and embraced everyone as a friend and we are all better people because of him," Minotti said.

"This should not be a day of sadness and sorrow, but a celebration of Bruce's long, loving, exciting, vibrant and fulfilled life," said Minotti. He was one of four people who memorialized Kershner during the service, which also included music, prayers and readings from the new and old testaments.

Minotti spoke on behalf of himself and his partner Ted Krolikowski, who stood beside Minotti as he eulogized Kershner. They said Kershner became a dear friend three decades ago after they met him at a dinner party in the former Westport home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, a fitting location considering Kershner's career and love for literature.

He was a "voracious reader," one person said.

Through Minotti's words Krolikowski reminisced about his and Kershner's road trips, touring 38 states and logging more than 50,000 miles stopping at state parks and estate sales, antiques shops and historic inns, national monuments and other monumental destinations.

"Bruce loved going to every antique store and thrift shop on the entire eastern seaboard," said Joe Rigoglioso, of Fairfield.

Walenczyc told those gathered it might have been more appropriate to hold Kershner's memorial service in the church's thrift shop rather than the traditional worship space, where Rev. David Spollett presided over the service.

"Your presence speaks about who he was as a man, a person and, most especially, as a friend," Spollett said.

Rigoglioso said Kershner's interests were as diverse as his "collection" of friends. He said Kershner was as comfortable in the fanciest of restaurants as he was in a roadside diner.

Much was also made of Kershner's style, which Minotti called "impeccable."

"Like the Duke of Windsor, Bruce was always the best dressed and the most well-mannered. He was also the most personable and quite often the life of the party," he said.

"Bruce lived a full life. If you tried to keep up with Bruce, as his sister Ann (Wood of Reno, Nev.) would say, you would only hurt yourself," Rigoglioso said. Wood and other family members were present for Saturday's service, but left the memories to his friends in the public setting.

Rigoglioso said he is sure Kershner is in heaven wearing a Burberry plaid shirt, contracting a carpenter to build shelves for his collections, listening to Frank Sinatra on satellite radio and having cocktails at sunset with the Queen Mum, their Corgis playing together, singing standard songs and maybe even dancing with the Queen Mum.

Many people who work or worked at the library attended the service, including Cheryl DelVecchio, the children's librarian at the Fairfield Woods branch. "He was a wonderful boss. He was just really kind to everyone, and he ran the library very professionally. He was just a great guy," said DelVecchio, who was hired by Kershner in 1975.

Ramona Gracia, a substitute reference librarian who was on duty Saturday, said she never worked with Kershner but she remembers him from her high school days as being "definitely dedicated." "When I was a student in high school I remember him sitting at the reference desk," Gracia said.

The gallery that bears his name currently has an exhibit through Dec. 31 titled "Enlightened," the art of Mark Schiff and Geoffrey Detrani.

In lieu of flowers contributions in Kershner's memory may be made to the Fairfield Public Library, 1080 Old Post Road.