Williams, Carl

Interviewer: Robert Estabrook
Place of Interview: 442 Salmon Kill Road
Date of Interview:
File No: 111 A Cycle:
Summary: WW II-Navy, Salisbury School math teacher, Board of Finance Chairman, SWSA, ski jumps,Strategies for Housing Trust, farming future

Interview Audio


Robert Estabrook: We’re running now. Why don’t we start this, Carl, by a few vital statistics? Now, this is an interview with Carl Williams on Wednesday, December 3, 2003. Where and when were you born?
CW: Okay. I was born in December 1920, in Ware, Massachusetts.
RE: Indeed. And what was your education?
CW: Well, I was born and brought up in Ware. My father and a hardware store and my mother had been a schoolteacher before she married my father. And I went to the Ware public schools until I went to the Lenox School in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1936, 1 think it was. I graduated in 39 and went to Trinity.
RE: Trinity College in Hartford?
CW: Trinity in Hartford, yep. Then I graduated from there in ‘43 and went immediately into the US Navy. That’s sort of an amazing statistic. There I was, a college graduate, except for going to Canada on canoe trips, which is something else, again, I had never been west of the Hudson River. You know, nowadays, kids go all over the world, and it’s just incredible. But here I was, a little New England boy, and never been west of the Hudson River. I graduated and I went to Navy Midshipman School in Notre Dame. That was a course for ninety-day wonders, and got my commission in September. From then I was in the Navy for, well, active duty for over three years but I was in the reserves for another twenty three or four years or something.
RE: Were you a commander or something or were you a midshipman?? CW: Yeah, commander.
RE: Where and when did you meet Ibba?
CW: Well, that’s a long story. When I was at Lenox I was offered an opportunity to go to canoe camp by a guy named Bogie Davis, who was one of my teachers and ran a canoe camp in central Quebec, well, southern Quebec. So I went to the camp, and his brother Rod was a counselor at the camp. When I was at Lenox and I decided that I would really like as a career to teach an independent school and run wilderness canoe trips in the summer. So I went to the wilderness canoe camp and when I was in college that was my summer job, I was a counselor at the canoe camp.
RE: This canoe camp was in Quebec?
CW: Yeah this was a camp called Camp Chippewa. So then I went and it, you know, was three years paddling a steel canoe along the Pacific Ocean. But when the war ended I had kept in touch with his brother, Rod, and he was going to try to start running canoe trips. So in the summer of 1946 when I got out of the service, we… I can’t remember where we got the canoes. I guess we bought four or five canoes, and took a few kids. Rod was a school teacher at the Taft school at the time and he had gotten some kids that wanted to go on canoe trips. He wanted me along as another counselor. So I started helping him run canoe trips in Quebec in 1946, and we were doing canoe trips for teenagers, you know, school kids. He had one trip lined up with six adults, and one of the adults was his sister. I didn’t know his sister, but anyway we were on the boys’ canoe trip and met when we were on this canoe trip and we came down the Des Moines River and met halfway down the Des Moines River.
RE: In Iowa?
CW: No, this was in Quebec, and we met this group of six adults and Rod and I flipped a coin to see who would take the boys and who would take the adults. And I either won or lost, I’m not sure, but I took the adults and that’s how I met Ibba. So we met on a canoe trip. And of course it’s been a vital part of our lives ever since.
RE: Well it’s been a shared hobby for your whole life.
CW: Yeah. Well I did what I wanted to do: you know, teach and run wilderness canoe trips. So yeah, I was pretty lucky.
RE: Any children?
CW: Oh yeah, we have three boys, and David is the oldest. He is a geologist in the Bureau of Land Management. He’s been out in Butte, Montana, for over 20 years. He’s married and he has a step-daughter. But he’s divorced from that wife, and now he has his second wife. Peter is the second son and he’s married to Nancy. They live in New Market, New Hampshire, where he’s a manager with Faust Manufacturing Company over there. They have two daughters and also by his first wife he had a son. On the 21st of this month we’re going to see our great grandson’s christening.
RE: Marvelous!
CW: Our youngest son Douglas is married to Jessica and they have four kids, three boys, one girl. Doug is in Lake Placid, where he’s the director of the New York Ski Educational Foundation and the head coach at Lake Placid.
RE: So your children all share your love of the outdoors?
CW: Oh yeah they’re all very outdoorsy, and very active athletically and in very good shape.
RE: When were you married, just for the records?
CW: We were married in ‘47
RE: Now, your career brought you to the Salisbury School?
CW: Yeah. I first started teaching at St. Paul’s School in Garden City, New York.
RE: What?
CW: I was an English major in college and then I started teaching English down there. But I got the chance to teach math. I had taken some math courses in college because I was in the Navy reserve program. So that was where we started our married life, down in St. Paul’s, Garden City. And then my father wanted me to try the hardware business for a year. So after five years down there I think I tried the hardware business for a year but I really loved teaching. I didn’t care that much for the hardware business. So then we went to…
RE: Did you take any graduate work for your math?
CW: Yes. I took graduate courses, and did math courses, but I had to take several when I was in college because I had kind of a checkered career. I mean, I started as an English major but then when I joined the Navy reserve in 1942, then they wanted us to take math courses right away at college. I’m the only English major who never took a course in Shakespeare, probably. But then we went to Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, to teach.
RE: Oh my goodness.
CW: There I was teaching math, and the last five years I was there I was head of the math department. I had a two year hiatus in Texas, as my time in hell.
RE: What part of Texas?
CW: In Houston, but I wanted to try something different, a day school, to see if I wanted that better than a boarding school, but I really liked boarding school life. So then we basically were at Wayland from ‘53 to ‘63 with a two year span when I tried the day school in Texas, which I didn’t like. It was a very good school, excellent school, but I liked boarding school better. So then I went back to Wayland, and was head of the math department there. When we kind of wanted to get back to New England because Ib’s father was a teacher at Tabor Academy, so, I mean, independent school teaching was sort of engrained in us I guess. So we wanted to get back to New England, and the opportunity came to come to Salisbury we came here in ‘63.
RE: So you’ve been here 40 years?
CW: I came as head of the math department. At school I held, well, I came as head of the math department. After I’d been here just two years that was when George Langdon left, and they needed a Director of Admissions. So I became Director of Admissions. I was Director of Admissions for about five or six years, and then, because I was gone in the summer when there was admissions work taking place they said, “Well, maybe it would be better if you were Director of College Placement.” So I was Director of College Placement for another six or seven years.
RE: Were you teaching all that time?
CW: Yeah I was teaching. I was an assistant headmaster too. There was a long time period for about ten years where I was head of the math department. I taught three math courses, I held one of those two administrative jobs, Director of Admissions or Director of College Placement, I was assistant headmaster, I was head ski coach which takes a lot of time. And it was busy. I don’t know how many hours I put in a week but it doesn’t make much difference.
RE: So did you live on campus?
CW: Yeah, we had one of those houses across the street, very comfortable house, and looking up the Taconic range, one of those beautiful views that you have in Salisbury.
RE: How long have you been a member of the Board of Finance here? CW: I was elected to the board for the first time in 1983, it would be.
RE: You’ve been on it 20 years?
CW: I’m on my 20th year, I have four to go. This is going to be my last, you know, I don’t want to be the Strom Thurmond of northwest Connecticut.
RE: Not much chance.
CW: And so, no, I’m going to stay as head. Well we don’t have an elected chairman but I’m pretty sure I’ll be elected for another two year term, and then my last two years on the board I’ll stay on the board, but someone else should be chairman. I can be there as sort of a transition. RE: That’s a good thought.
CW: To help in a transition phase.
RE: This is only one of your major?
CW: Oh yeah I do that for a long time, oh my gosh. I still coach skiing. I retired from active teaching at Salisbury in 1986. ‘86 and ‘87 I taught at school year abroad in France. That was the second time, I’d had a year’s leave of absence to do that ten years before in ‘76 and ‘77.
RE: Where in France?
CW: In Rennes, in Brittany. So we had two years, two fantastic years teaching and living there in France we loved that: that was wonderful, wonderful opportunity. The last year, you know, I retired from teaching at Salisbury and went and had that other year in Rennes in Brittany, and it was like the frosting on the cake. It was the perfect year. We had a wonderful time. But I’m still an active ski coach. I’m probably the oldest living active ski coach in the country RE: You’re a ski coach at Salisbury?
CW: At Salisbury, yeah, Alpine ski coach.
RE: You work with SWASA too, don’t you?
CW: Yeah I do a little with SWASA. But I’m so busy in the winter for many years. I was the chairman of what’s called Alpine Officials, all officials for the United States Ski Association. Meets in Southern New England… 1 still officiate several meets in Southern New England. But I gave up the chairmanship a couple years ago to a young guy. I thought they ought to get somebody in someone who was younger than I was an
RE: You must be a pretty accomplished skier.
CW: Well I am a pretty good skier, yeah
RE: Did you ever do ski jumping?
CW: Yeah. Actually my first association with Salisbury School was when I was at Lenox. The first association I had was I was not heavy enough to be a varsity football player, but I was a JV football player. We came down to play Salisbury in football in I think the fall of 37, probably, and I got knocked cold on the Salisbury football field up there. But my first ever ski meet was when I was at Lenox, I was on the ski team. Of course then we only skied a lot of times, being on the ski team meant you had to shovel the hockey rink because there wasn’t any snow. But when there was snow, because it was all natural snow when I was on the ski team. But we came down for the first meet we had, I think it was the winter of 1938, ‘39, probably ‘38-‘39, I’m not sure, but anyway, that winter we came down to a ski meet at Salisbury. In those days you did cross country, you did slalom, and you did jumping, when you were in a ski meet. You did all three events, all on the same pair of skis. So I could remember jumping on the front hill of Salisbury School and I had never jumped before. Well, a little bit, but because they had a jump that was, I don’t know, maybe 15 or 20 meter jump, I don’t know, but it was bigger than anything I’d done. That was my first ever ski meet. This fall they had a tree dedication to me up on the front hill, and I thought it was sort of fitting because that was the first place I ever competed in skiing. So, no, I’ve stayed active in skiing and officiating. I was head of Alpine Officials for, I don’t know, 10 or 12 years, I guess, something like that.
RE: Remarkable.
CW: I was real busy in the winter, because I’d be coaching the Salisbury ski team five days a week and then on weekends, a lot of weekends I had to be away.
RE: You ran your own canoe in Quebec. Where in Quebec?
CW: It’s in central Quebec. Simplest way… it’s 315 miles northwest of Montreal. It’s about half way between Montreal and the southern tip of James Bay, which is the southern part of Hudson Bay. I met Rod, and he and I started running planning canoe trips in 1946. We did two years of just running canoe trips with no base camp, and that was very difficult. We got an opportunity to buy, it was just a camp that some retired businessman had up at the headwaters of the Cabanatuan River. We bought that in the fall of ‘47 and ran our first trips from there, starting June of‘48, July of‘48. We ran the camp for about 40 years up through about ‘88. RE: So you lived through 1986 up there, but you still have a connection with him?
CW: Well of course, originally it was 3 cabins, well, 2 cabins, 2 cabins and a boathouse. When we first started we’d have maybe ten or twelve kids a summer. But when we were going full bore back in the 60s and 70s we would have 30-35 kids a month in July and then another 30- 35 in August. So we had to build and add a lot of buildings, which I designed and built and in addition to running the canoe trips. So we still own all the buildings but it’s very, you know, the kids, our grand kids and our sons, like to visit it so we still own the buildings, so we’ve got to decide what we’re going do with it.
RE: Can you get in with your car?
CW: Oh no you can drive in, I mean when we first started, I don’t know why my wife stayed married to me, but when we first started we had to take the train from just north of Montreal, town called Bromaire. We’d take the train overnight to the station where you get off to go to camp, a little, not a station, just a stop, a place called Bormont. We would get off the train and we had to portage everything half a mile to a little lake where there were some canoes, paddling canoes. You had to paddle through that lake, cart it another 200 yards to motor canoe and then motor canoe 3 miles to get to the camp.
RE: Wow.
CW: For the first, I don’t know, about, I would say the first half dozen years, we were there, I would say, everything in and out, and a go by that route. So it was very remote and difficult to get to.
RE: Your French must be pretty good
CW: Yeah. Of course, I had to keep up with French as a language because I had to use it some every summer. So that was tremendously help fill when we took those two trips to France RE: Even through the pronunciation though, you can think in the language?
CW: Oh yeah. I’ll never forget the first time we went in 1976. We flew to Paris and we picked up a car that we had brought in Paris and drove to Rennes, and drove to this school where I was going to teach. The director, George Cripobach, he was an American, met me there, actually, native French, but he’s an American citizen now. Anyway, George met me, and there were a couple other French teachers; one was the French language teacher, Monsieur Perri, and George introduced me, “Mr. Perri, I’d like to have you meet Mr. Williams.” And I said “Oh, bonjour, Monsieur Perri”, and he said “Oh, la Francais, Canadian!” You know, I’d said two words to him and he’d picked up my French Canadian accent quickly.
RE: Come back to the Board of Finance a minute. What do you believe are its greatest accomplishments in the period you’ve been on it?
CW: I think the greatest accomplishment is that I’ve tried very hard to make the board nonpolitical, and I think that it has. I think that’s the greatest accomplishment, it is non-political. We do what’s best for the town, and we really don’t get bogged down in right wing, left wing, national, politic point of view.
RE: Well that’s been pretty to a town government, generally.
CW: It has been, yeah.
RE: Pretty partisanship.
CW: That’s probably because there have been some dissatisfaction between Republicans and Democrats before I came on, but also the other big accomplishment, I think ,when first came on the board there was a lot of resentment about the position on the independent schools in town, that they weren’t paying taxes. That is pretty much behind us now, and people realize that legally they don’t have to pay taxes.
RE: But they make great contributions.
CW: But they should make contributions. So that’s behind us. But I think those are two things that we have a low mill rate and all that. But I think that comes about through. A lot of it is thought to be the Board’s approach, that we’re going to spend money, and we’re going to spend it very wisely and carefully, but we’re going to see that we have good services.
RE: So you’re not afraid to spend money?
CW: No.
RE: But you want to get good value for it?
CW: Yeah. Did you see the article in the Courant about the disparity in income situation?
RE: Yeah.
CW: Did you see that where Salisbury and Sharon, where all of Region 1 towns are the lead towns in the state? I mean, there are a lot of people here, you could double the mill rate, and they’d think, “Jeez, the taxes are low.” You know, some of the million dollar homeowners, wouldn’t bother them. But you’ve got to realize there’s a population here that bump up two or three or four or five percent of the tax rate is a real…
RE: Well, 125 families use OWLS kitchen.
CW: Yeah, I know that. I got the statistics from the state and Connecticut Policy and Economic council. And you’ve got to think of all ends of the economic spectrum.
RE: What do you think are the greatest issues facing Salisbury as a town?
CW: Well, I think the greatest issue facing all these towns, and not only Salisbury but everyone in the northwest comer, is the… what do I want to say? The gentrification of our population. That it is very difficult to get young people to do things, volunteer for the various positions that we need to have filled in town government. I think those are two very serious problems.
RE: By gentrification you mean…
CW: Well, tire population is getting older. I mean, if your biggest influx of people is somebody that’s retired and can afford to build a house here, then obviously your starting population age is sixty-five or seven. So obviously I think that’s…
RE: Keeping young people here with opportunity including housing?
CW: That’s right, exactly. That’s one of the biggest problems. What’s happened to, for instance, Canton. I read about that a lot in the Hartford Courant and the problem they’ve had down there and, you know, the destruction of that little golf course to put up a Wal-Mart or whatever the hell it’s going to be, I don’t know. But that’s somewhere down the road for Salisbury, I think, but I think that we’re far enough away, I mean, you can’t negate geography.
RE: What you’re suggesting is that even strong zoning may not be able to resist prices?
CW: Yeah, no, no. It’s…you’ve got to think ahead of me. Look at Norfolk, with their golf club thing. I mean, so you’ve got some big, I mean, if you have, you become not a gated community, you become almost a gated town. That’s a very….where you don’t have, that’s one of the reasons I still love to coach skiing, because I work with kids, and young kids, and it’s very important to get different viewpoints other than the viewpoint of a lot of other 80-year-olds.
RE: You want a mix of population?
CW: You bet. I think it’s vital for a town. You know….Man, the last thing I’d want to do would be move to…I get the Armed Forces officer magazine, whatever it’s called, and you know there are advertisements for retirement communities in San Antonio. And you know, I suppose the temperature’s wonderful and everything, but you know, it’s… Yeah, I like to be around a variety of people, not just old people.
RE: What do you think are the greatest threats to the quality of life in Salisbury?
CW: Well I…Other than what I’ve mentioned as far as the homogeneous group, you know, trying to get a mix rather than….you know, we have the oldest population in the State of Connecticut, but other than that I think a gradual erosion of farmland. When I came to Salisbury there were, what, 11 dairy farms, and now there’s one. The loss of that, and you know, I talked to Alan Cockerline because he moved all his beef cattle. He moved them over to Canaan, because I guess he had a lot of feed there, I found out. But I talked to Al and I said, “Jeez, where are the cattle?” Cause it’s just neat to drive around a road to see cows in a field. You keep open space, alright great, but you’ve got to keep it for something. I think farming’s very important, and if it’s gone, I don’t know how you’re going to salvage that.
RE: The New England dairy farm is just an anachronism.
CW: It I, it is. If you can’t do it in Vermont, I mean, you can’t do it anywhere.
RE: When we moved here in 1970-71, there were something like 4500 dairy farms in the state.
CW: Yeah, yeah.
RE: There are now 195 or something.
CW: Is that it?
RE: They’re diminishing.
CW: I mean, you look over at Freunds in Canaan, or Jacquiers, but even further…
RE: Nearly 1000 hills.
CW: And man, I don’t know where you’d be with 1000 head of cattle.
RE: Well they’re milking them three times a day.
CW: 1 know
RE: Well it’s touch and go with them.
CW: I know, whether they’ll make it. Not fair.
RE: Are you worried environmentally?
CW: Oh yeah. I am tremendously worried environmentally because of the national policies and the Bush administration. Saw this morning in the paper that they’ve got to lower the standards for mercury emissions. Yeah, they’re going to lower the standards, so, and I’m very worried environmentally by that silly cement plant by the Swiss company and things of that nature, yeah I think that. I worry about exactly where the PCB thing is going to go on the Housatonic. You know, they’re going to dredge a lot, well, here they’re supposed to dredge a lot of the Hudson. And I don’t know whether they’re going to get into dredging the Housatonic.
RE: You know, there’s at least one school, and you’re going to cause more damage than you prevent.
CW: Yeah, and I want it done, and I want it done right. But I don’t have any idea right now what the answer is. It’s just that. But I think, you know, you’ve got to just be up and ready to fight environmentally all the time, because business just wants to have these rules. And to me that’s just one of the scariest things about the current administration, is that the land is here for use, and it’s not here to pass on to your children and grandchildren.
RE: How well do you think we’re protected by such things as conservation easement?
CW: Well Salisbury, you know, the town’s very fortunate that we have conservation easements and about 35 percent of the town is protected….which is very high compared to other towns.
RE: A lot of that is in Mt. Riga?
CW: Yeah, in Mt. Riga, but you have the schools, and I think generally the people, you know, the land is so expensive here. There’s not much that’s really available that is zoned so that you could buy it and it would develop that way. So I think we’re pretty well protected in that way. RE: Put on your vision cap for a moment.
CW: A vision thing, George.
RE: What sort of community would you like to see 20 years or, say, in the year 2025?
CW: Well, in the Salisbury Forum, when Gordon and I were co-chairs of that Salisbury forum that tried to look 20 years down the road, and basically what people want is a community that’s like it is now because I think they feel that can’t go backwards. You can’t reinstitute dairy farms and things of that nature. The people that are here now basically want it pretty much unchanged. I sense very little movement toward “We’ve got to have economic development”, because if you stop and think about it, every town in the United States with a lot better facilities than Salisbury can present, and a lot better transportation than Salisbury can present, are looking for biotech firms or whatever that’s going come in and save the town, but that’s not going to save Salisbury. You know, no biotech firm with its head on frontwards is going to come here when they can go somewhere that’s a lot easier as far as transportation and everything else.
RE: How do you provide jobs for the people, and whom do you defend for your services like the fire department?
CW: Yeah that’s…you hope that the car’s been invented, and you hope that places like Becton and Dickinson and firms like that that have…are what little industrial base we have. Whatever Lakeville Precision Molding is called now, whatever that is, and then the Bike Run over there, you just hope the few firms that we have don’t leave. They have pressures to ship out some of their jobs to China, I know, and that’s scary. And if they leave…
RE: You are doing work with housing?
CW: Yeah, right, the Salisbury Housing Trust, and this week supposed to tear up route 44.
RE: I’ve read about it. It’s supposed to be done by Friday.
CW: Yeah, it’s supposed to be done real quick? But anyway, we’re putting the lines in and we’re signing the contract within a day or two, to build two houses, the ones out back to the ones we have.
RE: Well, you’re doing something?
CW: We’re trying to do something for affordable housing and we got two great people in the two houses we have. We got some good applicants for the back two and we’re looking at that. And just, off the record, we’re looking at the property next to it too. So in that area where we have town sewer and water, which is really critical. So trying to do that without too great an expense, we’d have up to nine homes.
RE: Perfect.
CW: Yeah.
RE: Well, we’ve had a very interesting conversation here. What words of wisdom would you like to leave on the record for posterity?
CW: Well, a couple. Look, one of the things that I’m proudest of, or that Ib and I are proudest of, not just myself, is that we came to this town as independent school teachers and saw what a wonderful place it was, and decided before we came, we said “We are going to be a part of the town, and we will not just be a part of the school.” So we made that effort when we came, to be a part of the town and become known in town, and settle here if we could afford it. We were very fortunate to find this house when we did, and it has been the happiest years of our lives.
RE: For the record, you live in Lime Rock?
CW: Yeah Lime Rock, yep. But we really, I think that’s one word that I would like to leave on the record and my….1 gave a ceremony up at Salisbury School near the end of the year last year, and I said “Well, I haven’t been asked to speak at graduation, but I’m going to give you my graduation speech.” I said, “I’ve been here 40 years, and am entitled to take it whether I was asked or not.” I said, and this was to the students, “You’ve got to face life with a sense of humor. You’ve got to laugh at yourself before you laugh at others. You’ve got to face life with enthusiasm. If life gives you lemons, make the best damn lemonade there is. You’ve got to face life with extensive excitement to try new things, go new places and take new opportunities. And don’t be afraid to do it. And then, you’ve got to be lucky.
RE: That’s a pretty impressive philosophy.
CW: Some luck helps. I mean, if you don’t get hit by a falling tree, or whatever. And anyway, it was a two minute speech, and some of the kids said it was the best one they heard.
RE: Carl, this has been a privilege.