Fairfield resident Martha Sue Eckert, who died Friday at the age of 77, truly knew her community. A teacher for 25 years -- she especially enjoyed her years as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at McKinley School -- Eckert also gave 12 years to the Representative Town Meeting, the town's legislative body.

While some RTM members might get animated to make a point, Eckert was always calm, cool and collected at meetings.

"She was mild-mannered. She was articulate. She wasn't one to get excited," said Republican Town Committee Chairman James Baldwin. "But she was passionate about doing what was best for the town. She did it in a manner that exuded grade and decorum."

Baldwin added, "Her manner and approach to government and to meetings is hopefully a tradition that will carry on. She was always very civil, courteous. If she disagreed with you she would let you know in a firm and reasoned way. She was someone we could all look up to."

Eckert was a Republican but, Baldwin said, "Everyone had the highest respect for Sue, regardless of political party."

Eckert had many interests. She rode horses; raised Arabian horses and Jack Russell terriers; traveled extensively; played pool; loved reading and could often be found at the Pequot Library. Eckert also loved to dance.

Town Clerk Betsy Browne said country line dancing was Eckert's big thing. One of Browne's fondest memories of Eckert is when she ran into her at Captain's Cove on a night Eckert was partaking in some country line dancing. Browne, however, didn't have the gusto to get up and join her friend.

"She was a very good friend and a very classy lady," said Browne, adding, "When she was on the RTM she did her homework and was a very good representative of the 3rd district."

Browne and Eckert shared not only a friendship but also a birthday -- Aug. 29.

"She was a very gentle spirit," said Browne, who as Town Clerk attends every RTM meeting and sits facing the legislative body.

"I'm going to miss her at the RTM meetings," said Browne. Whenever Eckert would catch Browne's eye, she'd give Browne a wink and a smile. During her time on the RTM, Eckert served as both majority leader and minority leader.

In 2005, Gov. M. Jodi Rell appointed her to the Long Island Sound Liquefied Natural Gas Task Force. She was also a past president of the Fairfield Bridal Trails Association, was a member of the Board of Directors of the Greenfield Hill Village Improvement Society, a member of the Aspetuck Land Trust and was active for many years at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.

First Selectman Ken Flatto, a Democract, said of Eckert yesterday, "Sue was such a marvelous, dedicated civic neighborhood leader for our town and for the RTM. Her integrity and enthusiasm were outstanding and we were all made better for working alongside her on issues that mattered for the community. I especially appreciated her bipartisan commitment and passion toward protecting open spaces and supporting neighborhood preservation efforts."

Eckert had to resign from the RTM in February due to declining health. RTM member Jim Walsh, who represents District 3, said he first came to know Eckert in 1999, when he was a new member of the RTM.

"Sue (who represented District 3) took me under her wing and taught me the legislative process of the RTM," he said.

"She was a very strong woman," said Walsh. "She at times was quiet but she always let her viewpoints be known. Sue was never very emotional with her arguments. She was very strong with her conviction and you knew where you stood with Sue on an issue. Although she had strong convictions she was one of the most kind people I ever met."

Walsh added, "She loved horses, she loved people, she loved children and, above all else, she had a love of all her family, her children and grandchildren."

In addition to serving on the RTM together from 1999 to 2009, Eckert and Walsh were also on the Board of Directors of the Greenfield Hill Village Improvement Society for close to six years.

"She was always somebody you could count on. She was a bright woman and I relied on her opinions greatly," said Walsh.

Baldwin added, "She was respected and loved by all who worked with her and she'll be sorely missed."