FAIRFIELD — There may have been some local residents who didn’t know her name, but they knew what Jeanne Harrison did — painted the town’s fire hydrants to look like British Redcoats. They may have even spotted her crouched next to a fire hydrant, paintbrush in hand.
Of course, Harrison, who died Saturday at age 85, did more than that for the town, and her volunteer spirit earned her the “Fairfielder of the Year” award in 2013. Town residents and officials spoke of Harrison’s love for the town.
“Jeanne had a great warmth, artistic ability and sense of humor,” said Town Clerk Betsy Browne, who nominated Harrison for the 2013 award. The two worked together on the plans to celebrate the town’s 375th anniversary.
“She had a great love for her family, friends and Fairfield,” Browne said. “I will miss her smile, mischievous twinkle in her eye and especially her phone calls.”
Harrison first painted the town’s fire hydrants in 1976, as part of the nation’s Bicentennial celebration. But Harrison also had a hand in helping to save and restore the Victorian Cottage, and served on the Historic District Commission and the Land Acquisition Commission.
“Jeanne was a lifelong champion of Fairfield’s historic preservation and it was through her hard work that wonderful historic properties like the Victorian Cottage were saved for future generations,” Michael Jehle, executive director of the Fairfield Museum & History Center, said. “The board and staff of the Fairfield Museum are deeply saddened at her passing.”
For First Selectman Mike Tetreau, Harrison was one of “the people that made Fairfield special,” who will be missed by everyon.
“She will always be remembered every time we drive by one of the painted fire hydrants,” Tetreau said. “Her energy, her smile, were contagious.”
A native of Pittsburgh, PA., Harrison moved to Fairfield in 1968 with her husband, Wayne, and here they raised their four children.
In addition to her efforts for historic preservation, Harrison also lead arts programs for children and was involved with the Police Athletic League, the Fairfield YMA, the historical society, and First Church Congregational.
It was while teaching an arts class at the Y in the 1980’s for high school students with physical and mental challenges, that Harrison happened upon a program being taught in Rhinebeck, N.Y., on clowning, taught by none other than counterculture hero, and Gathering of the Vibes emcee, Wavy Gravy. She was a 50-year-old housewife at the time, but made the trip and took the class.
According to Harrison, it was during the class that she learned of Wavy Gravy’s work with terminally ill children and went along with him on hospital visits.
Deputy Police Chief Chris Lyddy said that for many years, Harrison ran the arts and crafts section of the PAL program. “During her tenure, she touched so many lives as a positive role model and mentor,” Lyddy said. “Jeanne’s energy and enthusiasm will be missed by all of us at the Fairfield Police Department.”
Earlier this year, Harrison announced that she was turning over the task of the fire hydrants to Mary Hogue.
“Jeanne was a true life force,” Hogue said. “Her infectious giggle and fondness in connecting with people made any experience with Jeanne a joy.”
Hogue said Harrison’s “vitality, playful creative nature, and love of family and Fairfield will be sorely missed.”
Calling hours for Harrison will be held Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m. at Spear-Miller Funeral Home, 39 South Benson Road. A service for Harrison will be held at a later date.