I pride myself in making accurate judgments of people based on first impressions. Occasionally, however, I can be flat out wrong.
And I was flat out wrong about Connie Eaton who died this past week at the age of 76. When I first met the man, I thought he was a complete buffoon.
Connie Eaton was living proof that clothes do not make the man. The first time I met him, he was on a motorcycle in work boots, cut off shorts, and a tank top with a dangly ear-ring, outside Town Hall. This apparently was not the most provocative way in which the man would ride his motorcycle, as, while I never saw it, more than one person told me he would ride around town on his bike in a gorilla costume.
Connie never ceased to surprise me. He and I were known to mix it up on occasion with me in my role as a town official of some kind, and he in his indefatigable role of protecting what he thought was the government’s unnecessary infringement of the citizen’s individual liberties.
I am not sure if Connie was a libertarian or an anarchist. What I do know is that underneath it all he was an incredibly intelligent and kind-hearted person who was always looking out for what we too easily toss off as “the little guy.”
Title V legislation made him see red. He felt it unnecessary and overkill. And good luck getting away from him if he got into perk-testing. I heard him say on more than one occasion that he could perk Heald Pond if he had to. He also tormented the Sewer Department in a way that would have been downright cruel if it hadn’t been so scathingly funny.
I didn’t really know what footing I was on with Conrad until I had announced my first run for selectman. He came up to me outside Town Hall and began adjusting my collar as he talked to me. I wasn’t sure if he was going to wring my neck or not, but I figured I better just go with it so as not to anger him.
He gave me that impish look of his and said that after a lot of thought he was going to vote for me. He said he didn’t always agree with me and that he thought I had some very dangerous ideas, but that whatever I did, I usually caused chaos, and he liked chaos. To this day I am unsure if that was a compliment or an insult, but at that time I was just relieved his hands hadn’t tightened around my neck.
Connie was a polarizing figure, and my friendship with him caused all sorts of consternation. People in town loved to talk about the old days when there were many bars, some hotels with hourly room rate rentals, and signs throughout far flung armed services bases saying Pepperell was off limits to military personnel. Many people looked back on those days shaking their head in disbelief and thankful times had changed. Connie looked back wistfully saying that was the reason he moved to town in the first place. Something tells me the “Old Pepperell” for which Connie longed was not the same old Pepperell many others thought about fondly.
I distinctly remember a year he came to a Christmas party at my home. Most of my other guests did not have him on their Christmas card lists. Several came up to ask me why he was there, which annoyed me.
Connie and I wound up sitting around my diningroom table long after most folks had left, deep in political debate. I gained an incredible insight into just how thoughtful and well read a man he was. Connie definitely ranks as one of the smartest people I have ever met.
Early the next week after that weekend party, my wife and I found a very nice handwritten thank you note from none other than Conrad Eaton. It was also the only one we received.
Connie also seemed to love the fairer sex and the various recreational pursuits we can share that may or may not result in us propagating the species. Indeed, it was Conrad Eaton, a man 26 years my senior, from whom I learned about the alleged sensual benefits of Altoids. Days later, in wrapping cut from a brown shopping bag, was a box of Altoids in my mail box with the simple message: “Enjoy, Conrad.”
Yes, Conrad Eaton was many things: Controversial, kind, compassionate, intelligent, emphatic, thoughtful, contrary, libertarian, amorous, antagonistic, annoying, and above it all, down right lovable.
One thing he was not was a buffoon.
Something tells me Conrad is up there right now arguing with St. Peter about the injustice of the selection process at the gates.
Conrad Eaton. God love his irascible soul. I am a better person from having known him.