Patrician Historian Ellsworth Grant Loved His State

With Ellsworth S. Grant's passing goes a vast storehouse of Connecticut history. Fortunately, he left much of it behind in the dozens of books and articles he wrote.

Writing was just one of the many ways in which Mr. Grant, who died March 6 at the age of 95, showered his generosity on his beloved state.

He was born in Connecticut at a time when those to whom much was given were expected to give back, and he did. A successful manufacturing executive, he served as mayor of West Hartford in the early '70s. He was president of the Connecticut Historical Society for seven years — much longer than his predecessors — and doubled its endowment. He served as trustee of, and gave treasures to, local museums. He was a founding member of both Riverfront Recapture and the Connecticut River Watershed Council and made documentary films. The list can go on.

But he was especially charitable with his remarkable knowledge of the state. Nobody knew Connecticut's story as intimately as Mr. Grant — in part because, as a patrician, he knew so many of the leading actors or their descendants. (His connections went beyond Connecticut — former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was a Harvard chum, Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn was his sister-in-law, and Katharine Houghton, who challenged racial convention in her role in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," is his daughter.)

Mr. Grant was a gentleman with a gift for making everyone feel important. A testament to his diplomacy was that, according to Courant columnist Colin McEnroe, he was the only modern person — maybe the only person ever — to belong to two local literary groups, the Twilight Club and the Monday Evening Club. "That's like being both a Shark and a Jet," Mr. McEnroe says. "It speaks volumes about him. He was a very difficult guy not to like."

He was a Yankee in the best sense — he didn't put on airs, he did his duty joyously and he sought to understand the world around him.

In 1990, a year of deep recession for Connecticut, he wrote on these pages, "Gloom and doom in Hartford? Nonsense." With his very long view, he knew that, dark as some days could look, there was no place as wonderful as his community.

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