Webster Bank CEO Jim Smith and Baltimore Oriole pitching coach Dave Wallace.
The Waterbury Hall of Fame inducted four new members at a ceremony inside the Mattatuck Museum this afternoon; Daniel Buck the co-founder of The Waterbury Clock Company, Gerald Lamb, the first African-American elected to state office in American history, Dave Wallace, right, pitching coach of the World Champion Boston Red Sox in 2004 (and currently pitching coach of the Baltimore Orioles), and Webster Bank CEO Jim Smith (left).
Observer publisher John Murray was the master of ceremony at the event, and delivered the following speech to the crowd of approximately 200 people in attendance.
“Yesterday afternoon I visited the 116 plaques of the Waterbury Hall of Fame that are housed on the first floor of the Howland-Hughes Building on Bank Street. I looked into the eyes of these accomplished Waterburians and pondered the impact they’d had on the world, our country, our state and on our city. It is a remarkable collection of individuals who rose above self-interest to impact their fellow citizens in positive and meaningful ways. Rosalind Russell entertained us, Annie Leibovitz photographed us, Sando Bologna, Joseph Anderson, William J. Pape and Sarah Pritchard wrote about us and astronaut Rick Mastracchio inspired us – and literally looked down on us – as he orbited the Earth inside the International Space Station.
But not all members of the Waterbury Hall of Fame have experienced the spotlight of international acclaim; some made their impact locally, hardly ever leaving Waterbury city limits. Mary Abbott was a teacher and educator. Mario Generalli mentored youth for a generation. Leila Alexander – started the Pearl Street Neighborhood House, the hub of the African-American community for years.
In the field of science Dr. Robert Gallo is credited with the co-discovery of the HIV/AIDS virus. Sandra Burke graduated from Crosby High School in 1961. She is African-American, earned a PhD, and is one the leading experts on heart disease in the world.
In sports Roger Connor held the home run record until a guy named Babe Ruth came along and obliterated it. Softball pitcher Joan Joyce struck out Ted Williams at Municipal Stadium, and Derek Poundstone was three-times the strongest man in America.
There are industrialists that fired the brass miracle in Waterbury, inventors that created extraordinary clocks and watches, but one of my personal favorites in the Waterbury Hall of Fame is Michael DeLeo, a humble librarian whose idea it was to start the hall in the city.
In June 2001, six months before Mike unexpectedly passed away at the age of 52, we started a series in The Waterbury Observer entitled The Soul of the City. In ancient Rome the citizens believed their cities had a soul, or a special spirit. Cities were protected by gods and goddesses, spirits of nature, angels and saints. But in the digital age of computers, cell phones and the internet, did anyone still believe that a city could have a soul?
Michael DeLeo did, he believed Waterbury had a soul. I took him out to lunch one afternoon to probe and press him about his passion, his obsession about the history of Waterbury. DeLeo talked about the motto of Waterbury that is carved above the entrance to City Hall, which translated from Latin means, “What is more lasting than Brass?”
DeLeo said the answer to that question is Waterbury. “Waterbury is still here, but the brass is gone,” he told me. “The city has proven to be more lasting than brass.”
One of Mike’s inspirations for the Waterbury Hall of fame was to acknowledge those individuals who gave back to the community to make it a better place. He cited Henry Sabin Chase as an example. “Chase had more money than God, “ DeLeo told me, “and he didn’t have to do anything for the community. But when Litchfield refused to sell land to Waterbury, Chase stepped forward and bought it as an individual and gave it to the city. That gift allowed us to create a world class water system.”
Over lunch DeLeo told me there were Waterbury guys at Valley Forge with George Washington, and with General Grant at Appomattox. DeLeo told me the first comic book was printed in Waterbury, the first Mickey Mouse Watch was produced here, and there was a Waterbury guy on the first baseball team in history.
So what, I said to Mike DeLeo. What does that really mean to us now?
Mike DeLeo smiled and said, “If you look at all the great accomplishments these people had in their lives it can inspire future generations. These people came from Waterbury….hmmm, maybe I can do something too.”
And Michael DeLeo was right; the 120 members of the Waterbury Hall of Fame are role models for our youth. We need to find a way to incorporate these stories into the curriculum of our public schools, and to find a permanent home for the 120 plagues to be displayed. Our children know who Kim Kardasian is, and can name the members of Duck Dynasty, but we need to teach our children about Dave Wallace, Jim Smith, Daniel Buck, Gerald Lamb and the other 116 members of the Waterbury Hall of Fame.
The soul of a city isn’t its buildings and factories. The soul of a city is its people, and the 120 members of the hall of fame are individuals who’ve helped define Waterbury’s past successes, and individuals who are currently helping the city retool for another shot at glory.”