Margaret Weston French
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Wilton lost one of its oldest native citizens on September 18, 2012.
Margaret (Peggy) Weston French died here at the age of 94.
Margaret, the daughter of Frederic and Estelle DeWitt Weston, was born on July 5, 1918, in a home that stood on Old Ridgefield Road in Wilton Center where the Chase Bank is now located. A painting by E. Boyd Smith, author and illustrator, commemorated Margaret's baptism later that year at the old St. Matthew's Church. Descended from one of Wilton's early families, her father was a stockbroker and commuted to Manhattan daily for almost 70 years. Her mother, Estelle, was the first woman elected to public office after being sponsored by the Civic League for the School Board in 1914.
Attending a one-room school was not a consideration when she started kindergarten, and her mother drove her to school at Hillside, a private school in Norwalk. She enjoyed the daily ride down Danbury Road, which at the time was lined with little farms and old houses, a big millpond, and a pony farm. When the road was first paved with concrete in 1924, the southbound lane was tinted pink and the northbound was white.
After graduating from Hillside in 1935, she attended Connecticut College for Women, and graduated from the Columbia University School of Business in 1939. She worked as a security analyst for Central Hanover Bank & Trust in New York City where she married Daniel Chester French II, of Darien, in 1946. They moved back to Connecticut in 1947 and rented a cottage in Wilton on the Norwalk River from Clerc Ogden while building a home on family property on Cheese Spring Road. They belonged to the Norwalk Yacht Club, and summer weekends throughout their marriage were spent sailing with family and friends on Long Island Sound. The arrival of cold weather each year afforded Peggy many enjoyable hours indoors playing with her dollhouses and miniatures that were a life long hobby.
Peggy loved the land and everything that grew or lived on it. She spent many years of her life working to preserve what they owned and to protect what local land could be saved from future development. In 1965, Peggy was appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission and served six years, including a term as chairman. It was a time of intense building activity in Wilton, with new roads, new subdivisions, and over 200 new homes built every year.
Peggy was a self-taught botanist, walking through fields and woods with Anna Carpenter as a child and later, with local environmentalists E. Dan Cappel and George Symonds. Her knowledge of Connecticut wildflowers and ferns was well respected. She volunteered at Devil's Den in Weston both in the office and managing trails. One trail, Peg's Path, was named in recognition of her work there. Peggy was a long-time member of the Wilton Garden Club, which has managed the Old Town Hall since the early 1930s. She was presiding at a meeting there in 1977 when the Town Engineer came in and ordered everyone out of the building. They had discovered serious cracks in the structure and it was in danger of collapse. The Club mounted a fund-raising effort led by Peggy and three years later the building was reopened.
In recognition of Peggy's extensive community service she was among the first group elected in 1981 to the Town's Hall of Volunteers.
She was one of the 32 Wiltonians who participated in the historical retrospective entitled "Recollections & Remembrances: Stories of Wilton's Yesterdays, a Wilton Bicentennial video released in 2002. Peggy had vivid memories of Wilton in the 1920s and 1930s, when almost all of the roads were unpaved and the Keeler Store was the primary destination in the Center.
Predeceased by her husband in 1986, she is survived by her children, William Weston French, Mary Channing, both of Wilton, and Janie Coley French of Durham, NC. Her granddaughter, Dana Corson, lives in Newport, RI.
The Bouton Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. Burial at Hillside Cemetery will be private. Memorial gifts may be made to the Wilton Land Conservation Trust, P.O. Box 77, Wilton, CT 06897 or The Nature Conservancy, 4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203-1606.
Published in The Hour on Sept. 28, 2012