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Carl Balestracci, Jr. (right) receives his wartime service Medal for then-state senator Ted kennedy Jr. in 2015. Balestracci, a veteran, teacher, town leader, and friend and mentor to many in Guilford, passed away on June 3 at age 78. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Carl Balestracci, Jr. (Photo courtesy of the Guilford Funeral Home )
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The flags were lowered in town this week to honor the passing of a Guilford great, Carl Balestracci, Jr. As news of his passing spread, family, friends, and colleagues have shared stories and memories of “Mr. B,” a man who loved Guilford and a man who many in Guilford will always love in return.
Balestracci passed away on June 3 at the age of 78 following a brief illness. He is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, Linda Lascola Balestracci, as well as his four children, numerous grandchildren, and other relatives.
He was a Guilford man through and through. His parents, the late Carlo Balestracci and Edith Perna Balestracci, moved to Guilford in 1937 and were probably the 14th of 15 Italian families in town, according to Carl Balestracci. The family managed a small grocery store on Route 1 for 20 years and the store had quite the list of notable customers.
“It was so great because most of our customers were the old Yankees,” Balestracci said in a 2017 interview. “Elizabeth Adams was one of our regulars. It was a great experience for me growing up in that environment because these people were fabulous and they loved the idea that I liked history.”
The Student and the Teacher
Balestracci attended Guilford High School (GHS) and was a member of the Class of 1958. He attended the University of Connecticut for one year and then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1959. Following his honorable discharge in 1964, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and sixth-year certificate in administration from Southern Connecticut State University.
He taught in New Haven for a number of years before making his way back home to Guilford in 1976, teaching social studies at Adams Middle School. Carl held top administrative positions at GHS and the Adams and Baldwin middle schools before eventually retiring in 1999.
Balestracci’s lasting influence on Guilford Public Schools can be seen through the programs he started, including the GHS Fencing Program in 1976, or simply through the sheer number of people in town who had Balestracci as a teacher. State Representative Sean Scanlon (D-98) is on that list of students.
“I first met Carl when I was in 7th grade and got sent to his office (aka the principal’s office),” he said. “Even though I wasn’t a model student, he helped further my love of history. Years later, he was one of the first people I called for advice when I wanted to run for office and his support during my first campaign and ever since meant the world to me… He was tough on me as a kid but I know it’s because he cared about me and all of his students.”
Another notable student of Balestracci’s is current Guilford Police Chief Jeff Hutchinson. Hutchinson said he knew Balestracci for 45 years and that “Mr. B” played a big role in his education and career in Guilford.
“I first met Mr. B when I was a student at Calvin Leete School in the mid 1970s,” he said. “Mr. B came to school to give a history presentation. He came complete with his amazing and infectious personality, his captivating stories, and a whole lot of stuff! Cool artifacts from history. He knew how to hold the attention of curious and rambunctious kids. Mr. B was a great teacher, and not just a great teacher, a wonderful and genuine person. Whenever I spoke with him it seemed like I was the most important person in the room.”
When Hutchinson moved on to Adams, he encountered Balestracci again while Balestracci was trying to develop the fencing program, something Hutchinson said he never would have encountered or tried if not for Balestracci’s passion for the sport.
“After I moved on to GHS, it was then that Mr. B continued to impact my life as the GHS housemaster,” he said. “Such an ominous title, but immediately tempered by the kindness and compassion that was Mr. B’s hallmark. Don’t get me wrong, it did not mean that Mr. B was a pushover by any means. Mr. B was firm and clear in his expectations of how he expected high school students to behave, he just had a gift of being able to convey that in a way that would not put a kid on the defensive. He helped us not only to understand what was expected of us but also why, a successful tactic when dealing with a teenager who thought they had all the answers.”
The Guilford Politician
Balestracci ran for first selectman in 2001 and served a total of three terms, although not consecutively. Throughout his tenure, he saw the town through many changes, including the restructuring of the first selectman term from two years to four years. Regardless of the term length, Balestracci had a clear idea of what it took to be first selectman of Guilford, as he explained in an old interview with the Courier.
“The role of first selectman has changed immensely since I was a boy and Mr. Leslie I. Dudley was first selectman,” he said. “He was a part-time employee, who had no secretary or office. He wrote notes on a little pad he kept in his back pocket. Guilford’s population was around 5,000. Today, Guilford is a community of almost 23,000 citizens. We have over 750 town employees and over 200 volunteers who serve on boards and commissions. The first selectman must be available 24/7/365. He or she must have the ability to marshal, manage and direct our public service workforce and also bridge our efforts to those of other regional leaders, our state and U.S. Congressional representatives, while still maintaining contact on a very personal level with his or her constituents.”
His vision of leadership has helped guide and support numerous politicians of both parties over the years. Current First Selectman Matt Hoey (D) said Balestracci has left a wonderful legacy.
“Carl has been a mentor to me for years but particularly over the last 18 months, sharing his experiences as first selectman and helping me gain the insight and perspective as to what the job is about and how to handle the job,” he said. “Carl was a tremendous asset to this community and he is going to be sorely missed by the community.”
Hoey’s predecessor, former first selectman Joe Mazza (R), said Balestracci’s passing is a great loss to the community.
“Carl and I had different political philosophies, but when it came to the Town of Guilford, we were on the same page and we wanted to work for the betterment of the town regardless of the letter by our name,” he said. “I loved working with Carl and I am very sad that he is not with us anymore.”
Balestracci continued to serve on the Board of Selectmen (BOS) from 2009 to 2017. While his time in office came after his formal teaching days were over, his BOS colleague Charles Havrda (R) said when it came to leadership, Balestracci was always teaching by example.
“He didn’t flaunt his leadership, but yet he was a remarkable leader,” he said. “He understood that leadership wasn’t about politics or personal stuff, it was about the good of the town. He was so down to earth and I am proud to have known him and been able to have worked with him. He was a remarkable man—he served our country, he served our town, and he served many of us individually.”
Balestracci’s other civic activities included serving on the Guilford Police Commission for nearly two decades, the Democratic Town Committee (DTC), the Guilford Keeping Society, the Guilford PTA Council, the Advisory Board of SARAH, and as a member of the Board of Directors of both Guilford ABC and Guilford Family Counseling, according to his obituary.
Hutchinson said one of the great things about Balestracci was fully committed to every elected and volunteer position he held in town.
“As a Guilford police commissioner, a selectman, and first selectman for much of my career, Mr. B was always there for support and advice—the same support and advice he was always anxious and willing to provide to any of the officers here,” he said. “Even after he left the commission and BOS, I always looked forward to running into him at many of the local events where Mr. B could always be found. He was truly omnipresent. What an incredible legacy he has left.”
Balestracci was a prominent and respected Democrat who worked on the campaign staffs of Senator Chris Dodd, Governor Ella Grasso, Congressman Emilio Daddario, and Senator Abe Ribicoff. Current DTC Chair Veronica Wallace called Balestracci one of a kind, “a Guilford treasure, a lifelong resident, a beloved educator, author, historian, and public servant.”
Scanlon said one of the things that made Balestracci so unique is he championed an important quality not found in just any politician: He cared.
“After I won, Carl gave me a poster that hangs in my office today,” he said. “It’s a black and white poster from our former U.S. Senator Abe Ribicoff’s 1968 campaign right after Kennedy was assassinated and during a very dark time in our history. The entire poster consists of a picture of Ribicoff and Kennedy talking and RIBICOFF CARES and at the bottom VOTE DEMOCRATIC. It’s so simple but it worked because people knew exactly what it meant: They were politicians who cared and that’s the kind of leaders we needed at that moment… Carl cared. He cared about this town. He cared about people. He cared about this country.”
The Community’s Friend
One of the most notable things about Balestracci was his knowledge about everything Guilford and his varied interests. According to his obituary, Balestracci was a drummer and past commodore in the Ancient Mariners Fife and Drum Corps, a woodcarver, and a wine maker.
He was also an author, publishing his book, John Beattie and His Quarrymen: Building America Stone by Stone in 2016. He was well versed in the history of the quarry and its crowning achievement: providing the granite for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. However, he could also give you a list of all the places granite from the local Quarry ended up, including the men’s bathroom at Grand Central Station in New York City, which he said always gave him a laugh when he had to step in after a long train ride.
Beyond his many accomplishments, what so many in the community have said they will remember about Balestracci is that he was considered a friend. The Guilford Foundation released a statement honoring that legacy of friendship to the community.
“The Guilford Foundation joins our community in mourning the lost of a town treasure, Carl Balestracci,” the statement read. “Carl was a veteran, educator, civil servant, and loving family man—and also a master of the funny story. He committed his full and accomplished life to promoting the well being of those around him, and Guilford and its citizens are better because he was in our lives.”
In addition to his wife Linda, Balestracci is survived by his son Christopher (Katie) of Guilford, and their children Michael and Brendan; his son Andrew (Linda) of Boonville, California; his stepson David Colle (Jennifer) of Naples, New York, and their children Jericho and Sienna; and his stepson Kevin Colle of Guilford. Other survivors include Balestracci’s cousin Judy Secki of Guilford, as well as many loving sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Calling hours will be Friday, June 7, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Guilford Funeral Home, 115 Church Street, Guilford. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, June 8, at 10 a.m. at St. George Catholic Church, Whitfield Street, Guilford. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to: The Carl A. Balestracci, Jr., Humanitarian Fund at the Guilford Foundation, P.O. Box 35, 44 Boston St., Guilford, CT 06437. To share a memory or leave condolences, visit www.guilfordfuneralhome.com.
This story will be updated as public remembrances continue to arrive. To share a remembrance of Carl Balestracci, Jr., email z.roos@Zip06.com.
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