AP NEWS

They strengthened community bonds

April 14, 2019

In his study of why Democracy succeeded in the United States when it had failed elsewhere, Alexis DeTocqueville in 1835 noted the importance of community and association.

His two-volume “Democracy in America” observed, among many things, how the positive instinct for belonging to a community, neighborhood, church or club strengthens democracy.

Nearly two centuries later that remains true, even as society becomes isolated by electronic gadgets. Every local community, fortunately, has individuals who get involved to make it a better place. Often they are volunteers who care about their place on this earth.

In Bethel, two such people who were intricately involved in community life have died recently and the loss is keenly felt.

Larry Craybas and Geraldine Mills were respected community figures who loved their adopted town in their own ways.

Craybas was 77 when leukemia claimed his life on April 6. Mills was 88 when she died on March 1.

Many would know Gerri from her younger days when she would portray Queen Isabella in the annual Columbus Day parade down Greenwood Avenue. On a boat atop a trailer, she would grandly wave to spectators. (She was proud of her Irish heritage, but was one of the instigators of the parade.) Her bright red hair was her trademark.

In conversations, she would find a way to work in mention of her late husband, Ed, who had been a first selectman from 1981-84. They had moved to Bethel in 1974. Gerri served on a variety of boards and committees through the years.

Even as her health declined in recent years, she still knew more about the goings on in town than most people.

She enjoyed calling journalists to fill then in on something or other. Hi honey, she would start, I won’t take more than a minute of your time, I know you’re busy.....and then, after lots of laughs, we would hang up 15 or so minutes later. I miss her calls already.

Larry Craybas was a true gentleman. He came across as serious and caring, particularly for educating the town’s children. He was chairman of the Board of Education for eight years, and vice chairman for two. Larry and his wife Joan lived in Bethel for 39 years.

The first time I spoke with Larry, years ago, probably about a Letter to the Editor, he thanked me and told me to go to the Gift Cottage, a shop on Greenwood Avenue owned by his wife. She’ll give you a chocolate, he said. Oh, I can’t accept a gift, I said, but I will stop in. And have many times.

At the Bethel High School graduation last June, Larry and I chatted before the ceremony started. He was concerned about nasty anonymous comments on websites and wanted to discuss civility and free speech. That’s how he was: thoughtful and wanting to explore all sides of an issue.

My interaction with these Bethel icons is as a journalist. Close friends, family members and colleagues in civic life will see other facets. I just felt compelled to offer tribute and appreciation for their dedication to the Bethel community we call home.

A mass for Larry Craybas will be at 11 a.m., April 16, in St. Mary’s Church; visiting hours are from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. in the church the day before. A service for Gerri Mills is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., April 27, in St. Mary’s Church.

Jacqueline Smith is editorial page editor of The News-Times in Danbury and The Norwalk Hour. Email her at jsmith@newstimes.com