The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 12, 2004


Carlisle loses one of its best

photo by Rik Pierce
It was early Monday afternoon when the town first learned of the death of Selectman Vivian Chaput in an automobile accident Saturday evening in Hollywood, Florida. Chaput and her husband Ron had taken time off for their annual March vacation at their waterfront condominium in Hollywood, just south of Fort Lauderdale.

As Carlisle Conservation Commission Administrator Sylvia Willard was working at her desk at Town Hall on Monday afternoon, she received a phone call from a young woman inquiring about how one might go about making donations to the Carlisle Conservation Fund or the Carlisle Conservation Foundation in memory of a deceased. Upon relaying this information to the caller, Willard asked if she could have the name of the deceased. After a long pause when the caller went to confer with others in her office, she returned to the phone to inform Willard that the person in question was Vivian Chaput.

Once word of Chaput's tragic death circulated among the staff at Town Hall, people were in a state of disbelief. How could this have happened to this vibrant, totally committed, most competent woman, so necessary to all that has gone on in the town of Carlisle? When the information was confirmed, and after contacting the Selectmen, Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie called a staff meeting at 2 p.m. for all town departments to alert them to what had happened. Later, as the news spread throughout the community, to the post office, to the newspaper, to individuals who had worked with Chaput on various town committees, to members of the several town plays in which she had performed, there was a universal response of shock and grief.

Over the years, Vivian Chaput, a resident of Carlisle for 30 years, served her town well, first as a member of the Planning Board from 1978 until 1994, then as Selectman from 1996 to the present. Her term as Selectman would have expired in 2005.

In the Carlisle Mosquito candidate questions printed in the May 3, 2002 issue of the newspaper, when she was running for Selectman, Chaput had this to say about her experiences in town government:

"I am a team player. My efforts...have been in achieving certain of the town's goals, including land preservation and open space objectives such as the O'Rourke Farm purchase, the passage of the Community Preservation Act ... working towards increasing the town's financial reserves with the development and proposed sale of a lot in the Carriage Way subdivision. I helped establish the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Committee to protect the safety of schoolchildren and others who use town ways."

In recent months Chaput had been actively involved and supportive of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation's plan for the town to acquire the 45-acre Benfield Parcel A on South Street at a Special Town Meeting set for March 23.

Speaking with a number of Carlisle residents who had worked closely with Chaput on town committees over the years, here is what we learned.

Phyllis Hughes, who served with Chaput on the Planning Board in the late '80s and early '90s, responded with the highest of praise:

"Vivian was knowledgeable about state regulations. She was the most perceptive and levelheaded member of the board. She served on the Study Committee for the Town Master Plan, which met bimonthly for several years, and together we attended conferences having to do with Planning Board issues. [As head of Great Brook Associates, a developer of moderate- and low- income housing, she has built several facilities in Chelmsford and Billerica.] She was so talented, such a lovely lady and an awesome person. I can't believe it has happened."

Town Moderator Tom Raftery also worked with Chaput during the seventies when they both were on the Planning Board:

"Vivian was the epitome of class. My longest working relationship with her was on the Planning Board where not only was she both professional and knowledgeable, but she was also very caring. Where others might have been tempted to dismiss a particular speaker's comments as biased or self-serving, she took great pains to listen. She was never dismissive and always tried to accommodate anyone with something to add to any issue. Long after others' patience would lapse with some advocates, Vivian would still be trying to elicit the substance of their arguments and still be attempting to reach a common ground. She would approach every issue with an open mind; she would try to anticipate both the pros and cons of an issue and solicit opinions with respect to both. She never came to a conclusion on an issue without a good deal of thought as to the right decision. You could not help but admire and respect her."

School Committee member Michael Fitzgerald had these words for his former colleague on the Board of Selectmen:

"I am shocked and saddened by Vivian's passing. Vivian and I served together on the Board of Selectmen for five years. I really came to know, admire and respect Vivian when we worked together on the acquisition of the O'Rourke farm. She worked tirelessly in looking for ways for the town to preserve the property. She developed the concept and pursued the federal government, ultimately purchasing the property through the National Fish and Wildlife Service. She was the consummate professional in representing the town. You couldn't ask for a better person to work with. We recently had the opportunity to work together again negotiating the high school teachers contract. No matter what project we worked together on, I could always count on Vivian to use her strong common sense, all the while knowing she was representing the entire town of Carlisle. Her long-standing commitment and contributions to Carlisle were vast, resulting in the special community that is Carlisle. We and subsequent generations of Carlisleans will be forever thankful for her commitment to our community. My heart goes out to her family during this devastating time. I will, and I believe this entire community will, deeply miss her."

As Selectman John Ballantine was making plans for an informal Selectmen's meeting on Tuesday night, where all those in attendance would have the time to express their thoughts on Vivian's untimely death, he shared his own words on the passing of his fellow Selectman:

"Vivian's tragic death has left a big hole. Yanked unceremoniously from a vital life, we know that a special person has been taken from us. Today, I cannot tell you all that she meant to me, the Board of Selectmen, or all the other ways that she was connected to us. The loss is huge.

"The Board of Selectmen is, at best, the sum of its parts. Vivian was the core of the board for the past eight years its deliberations, decisions, direction and laughs. Much, of course, will be said, as it should, of all Vivian's volunteer activities in Carlisle and the greater community: Planning Board, Board of Selectmen, library, affordable housing, elderly, pathways, planned parenthood, schools, cultural activities, conservation, and the Democratic party. She was a tireless, positive and committed person who gave to the public good. For the Board of Selectmen, she brought a special perspective on planning, housing, and the need for continued dialogue and foresight.

"But the measure of a person is not what they do, but who they are and how they affected our lives. What I remember is her style, sense of humor, twinkle in her eye and persistence to move forward despite all odds. Yes, she always looked great in our dressed-down community — a uniquely attractive person. She was engaged and moving, sometimes hard to find, but ready to talk about SUASCO or larger planning issues affecting Carlisle. She cared deeply about the people, the land, the schools, and Carlisle. Doing good was part of her being.

"Vivian was also private, in the Carlisle tradition. She would retreat to her home, to outings with her husband Ron, to her family and friends. And we all appreciated the boundaries that she set. She was a caring, good and delightful person. I felt better being in her presence.

"Her untimely death reminds me, and I suspect most of us, how precious life is. And why you should tell a person what they mean to you. Too often we are caught up in the business at hand, and don't acknowledge how someone like Vivian has affected our lives. Vivian passed on to me more than the value of good deeds and a commitment to community. She gave me the delight, humor, warmth and connection to people and Carlisle. We will miss her terribly, but her gift to us is life sustaining. I cannot help but smile when I think of Vivian Chaput."

Yes, we will remember Vivian Chaput, always a gracious lady, stylishly dressed with perfectly coifed hair, firm in her convictions and looking out for what was best for the town of Carlisle.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito