The long view: Jill Kelly's half-century of service to Fairfield

Jill Kelly grew up in Easton, but has lived for more than a half century in Fairfield, where she and her husband, Henry, who died in 2011, raised four children.

During those 50-plus years, Kelly, a Republican, has actively served the community in a wide range of roles, from the Representative Town Meeting to the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a stint on the Board of Selectmen from 1993-97 as then-First Selectman Paul Audley's running mate.

A local real estate agent, the 82-year-old also serves as co-chairwoman of the Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby. The Board of Selectmen recently approved Kelly's re-appointment to the town Ethics Commission, a term that Kelly called her "swan song."

She recently sat down over a cup of coffee at the Athena Diner and reflected on her involvement in town government and community activities.

Q: When did you first get involved in the community?

A: "I was very involved, I was a neighborhood activist. We were very involved in zoning. I had been on the Sasquanaug Association, and I fought every development that there was to fight, some of which are where some of my kids live now. Southport Woods Condos, we were fighting like mad. The Republicans had three people on the RTM. Don Collimore approached me because I had name recognition, and asked me if I ever considered running for the RTM. I hadn't, but I said, sure."

Q: What was your first foray into politics like?

A: "It was interesting. The Republican Town Committee, they didn't know me and so they were a little stand-offish. I really had to work hard to get accepted. On the RTM, there had been only three Republicans from Greenfield Hill, District 3. Don Iodice and I won in 1975, and the five of us would sit in the back of the room. We loved it. (Democratic First Selectman) John Sullivan was in full swing. We had a few conservatives who sat in the back of the room with us, and we could maybe get 10 votes, 12 votes. It was a good time. Each year we increased the numbers of Republicans, but in those days it was just the five of us, and it was fun.

"John Sullivan understood we knew a lot of people and we should probably be listened to a little. When we got more and more members, I went from minority leader to majority leader. I worked with (Democrat) Judy Ewing. I thought we worked very well across the table."

Q: You're on the Ethics Commission now, recently re-appointed by the Board of Selectmen. There haven't been any meetings lately. What does that say about the way the town government is run?

A: "I think, as I look back, I really think we've been very clean. I have never thought at any time there would be issues that had to be brought to the Ethics Commission. We had one guy, we said, `Here's the procedure,' but he didn't follow through. Debby Zieff has been on longer than I have. She said in all her time, there were no issues. So that speaks well of the community. I think we always have been straightforward and pretty transparent in Fairfield."

Q: If you were first selectman, what would be the first thing you would want to tackle?

A: "Fix the roads. I'm in real estate, I'm on these roads a lot. I called (First Selectman Michael) Tetreau's office, I had a client in the car, as we came down Hillside from Congress, he said, `Are all the roads in Fairfield like this?' If I had my druthers I'd find the money to really get after the roads.

"The next thing I would do is something about the look of Fairfield. It's dirty looking, I think, partially because of the roads and all the signs. And I have said this before, we should have been able to do something about Penfield Beach. I was anxious to have Penfield rebuilt when it was three years ago. It was embarrassing as a real estate agent to take people there. It was so dirty and disgraceful. After Sandy, I think the process of rebuilding is taking too long. It seems it could have gone a little quicker."

Q: Do you think the tone of national politics is starting to make its way into local politics?

A: `Yes, I think there is more friction between the parties than I remember in a community like Fairfield, and it shouldn't be. You really should be thinking about the community. We always had a camaraderie that was very evident. The feeling was about community."

Q: What was your favorite political or appointed positions?

A: "I loved the ZBA and I used to say if you find me in a nursing home at 2 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month, please wheel me out to the ZBA, it's the best show in town. You have all these attorneys coming forward with their impassioned pleas. I loved the ZBA"

Q: What do you think draws people to Fairfield?

A: "I remember once going into Paul Audley's office and saying, `We must be doing something right.' I had just driven a young couple out of New York around town. I asked them why Fairfield, and they said they had gone to Fairfield University and really loved it here. What I love about it is the diversity. I love the demographics of this community. We have something for everyone and that's hard to find."

Q: What has changed about Fairfield that you would like to see return to the way it was?

A: "Off the top of my head, I hate to see the density we have today. The density is just increasing so much; that bothers me."

Q: What is your favorite spot in Fairfield?

A: "I like to go to the little Sea Lodge on Southport Beach, so quite often I go there with a book and a sandwich. It's a gorgeous view."

Q: It's summer, and time for hot dogs. Rawley's or Super Duper Wienie?

A: "That's a tough one, but I would have to say Rawley's. It's just too far back in my memory. They're both great, but for the historic value, Rawley's."