Fran Brady: Taking Time to Turn to Nature
Fran Brady may have grown up a city kid on the streets of West Philadelphia, but he has developed a profound love and respect for nature that has made him an invaluable resource for Madison’s environment. A career in the chemical industry has also forged a diverse skill and experience set that allows Fran to a provide a unique perspective on environmental matters.
Fran says he grew up the son of a sports writer in Philadelphia and his childhood is filled with memories of the city’s most beloved sports heroes including the Flyers and Eagles. His father’s job allowed access to a rarefied world that surprisingly did not lead to a career in sports, but instead to school in Boston and then eventually to Madison, which he and his family have called home since 2010.
“I have this urban background, and then reaching out to nature came later,” says Fran. “I was a total city kid. I took the “El” train. I never even had a car until after I graduated college. Growing up, everything was Philadelphia.”
Despite his love for the city life, Fran slowly began developing a nuanced respect for nature and community.
“I would it took a little while for me to turn to nature. When I knew that retirement was on the horizon, around 2018, I joined the town Conservation Commission, and that was my first foray into the environment,” says Fran. “Back then plastic on the beaches was the big topic. I formed BYO [as in bring your own shopping bag] and that’s where I began connecting with a bunch of other people in Madison that shared the same concerns. We met and began talking about making the community more aware of the plastic issue.”
Fran says that this work led to him creating the actual bag ordinance for Madison.
“We really wanted to encourage folks to bring their own bags to shop. Getting those bags out of the environment was really important. So, the Conservation Commission and the BYO effort really got me into the community more effectively.”
Fran says that his background in chemistry has proved to be a valuable asset in many aspects of his conservation commitment.
“My job for 37 years was working mainly with petrochemicals, and I traveled the world. I visited all of the big Chinese, Japanese, and American petrochemical companies. I audited them. So, I really got an understanding of that industry. I like to say now, I’m atoning for my sins. I am more focused on the ecological things now. I had this knowledge on the toxicity of these products and their value as well, so I think I can bring a different angle to this discussion.”
Fran started Mad for Trees several years ago after his wife Kellie was certified as a master gardener through a program at UConn, inspiring him to get involved. When a 2012 gypsy moth invasion killed off several majestic oak trees on his property, Fran knew what he needed to do.
“When my wife Kellie got that certification, it really exposed me to what she was doing. She started becoming involved with the Madison Garden Club, and in 2019 they had a great project to plant 2,000 daffodils,” Fran says. “And I thought I’d like to take that idea and said, ‘Let’s do 2,000 trees planted.’
“I did a little research and found out that Madison’s 200th anniversary is in 2026, so I thought, ‘What about 200 trees for the 200th anniversary?’ That linked the 200 together, so that gave me some time,” he continues. “I knew Bob Kuchta, and he was the tree warden here in Madison for many years and he and I, with my wife, too...all developed the details. The right tree for the right place.”
With a goal in mind, things moved quickly.
“Bob had the connections with all of the nurseries, so it took off from there. When Bob got involved, he really helped us plan it out, and helped us figure out the best plan” Fran says. “I read in my research that Connecticut has a million trees in the last decade to basic pests, the storm we had, and the drought, so I really needed to do something about it.”
COVID unfortunately, stalled his initial efforts with Mad for Trees, but as in the last two years, Fran has slowly built up the effort to plant 200 trees in town in time of the 2026 anniversary. Fran has raised more $18,000 to help purchase trees, and will be holding a free tree give-away event that includes info and instructions on care on Saturday, April 23 at Salt Meadow Park.
Fran is also hard at work on trying to solve a mystery out at Meigs Point than appeared several years ago. Readers may have perused the March 10 article on zip06.com, “Rubber Chunks Pose a Mystery at Meigs Point” concerning Fran’s efforts to solve the mystery of how and why chunks of rubber and old shoe parts are washing up on a small section of beach, known by some as Slipper Shell Beach, out on Meigs Point.
“We really would like to get this solved—that’s for sure,” says Fran. “We have really tried to figure this out. We do know that tires were used to make artificial reefs and barriers in the area at various points, but we don’t think the chunks are coming from those sources.”
Fran says he has pretty much exhausted all of the leads on land, as far as town records and any paper trail that might have led to information about the area off of Meigs Point. According to Fran, he is seeking certified divers who might be willing to take to the water and see if they can uncover the source of the rubber, which is still continuing to wash up on the beach.
“It will pretty hard to do, because some divers have told me the visibility is so bad, but I’m not sure how else we might solve this,” says Fran. “Anyone who dives and is interested in helping can contact me. We would really love to get an answer, that’s for sure. It’s my nature and curiosity as a chemist. Scientists like to understand and knowing the raw materials that go into tires certainly made me think. We want to make sure we understand this so we can help deal with it.”
The Mad for Trees Planting & Resident Pick Up Event at Salt Meadow Park will be held Saturday, April 23, from 1 to 3 p.m. The organization will be planting 21 native trees at the park and giving away more than 40 trees to residents who sign the free care pledge. The trees come in three- to seven-gallon containers and are easily transported. Preregistration is required at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mad for Trees is a component fund of the Madison Foundation. For additional info, visit www.mad4trees.org.
Any area divers interested in helping solve the Meigs Point mystery or anyone with information about the area and possible sources for the rubber can contact Fran at email@example.com.