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  • Writer's pictureDan FitzPatrick

Enduring Friendship

November 2017

In this Thanksgiving season, let us raise a glass to friendship. Real, simple, cordial, honest, mutual, I’ll-be-there-when-you-need-me friendship. Something so very fundamental yet so easily overlooked in this hyper-politicized, media-messaged, consumer-focused, Kardashian-obsessed culture where concern for others is about as fake as … well, as an “air kiss.”

I’d like to write about a true friendship. One that lasted many years, and was well known to many people, particularly those in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich, CT. It’s a nice story.

A shrink, an ad man and a candy maker walk ….

Sometime in the 1980s, three men in their pre-retirement years decided to get together early each morning for a walk around their neighborhood. Their names were Dr. Jack Wilder (renowned psychiatrist and innovative educator), Wright Ferguson (longtime senior advertising executive) and Bob Ix (chairman of Cadbury Schweppes USA). Two Yale Bulldogs (Wilder & Ferguson) and one Princeton Tiger (Ix), they never let inter-collegiate rivalry adversely impact their friendship (except on one game day each year).

Every morning, the three would meet at the guard booth on the corner of Field Point Road and Mayo Avenue to circumnavigate the Belle Haven peninsula, stopping for coffee and the newspaper at the Belle Haven Club midway through their journey. Their purpose: to discuss and solve the issues of the world, while also getting a bit of exercise.

The ‘80s were a time of explosive growth in the financial sector, which had considerable impact on Greenwich, particularly with respect to high-end real estate. Seemingly overnight, very nice old houses began disappearing, replaced with very big new houses. A great deal of that activity occurred in Belle Haven, which seriously intrigued the three friends.

Outgoing and curious personalities all, they would strike up conversations with the work foremen on the various job sites and get “the scoop” on building practices and market trends. This became such a practice that Dr. Wilder (whose wife, Therese, owned the stationery boutique Therese Saint Clair) had business cards made up for the team. The cards read: “Amble, Meander & Stroll -- Private Evaluators.” They got a big kick out of handing out the cards on their daily jaunts.

When Dr. Wilder died in 1998 at age 72, Ferguson and Ix continued the tradition, albeit as “the Two Musketeers.” They were a fixture in the neighborhood well into this decade. It is entirely possible that they actually did solve many of the world’s problems, but were too modest to admit it.

Their friendship was very special, and deepened through time and troubles. On September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a large tree branch fell on Bob Ix’s car as he was returning home from church. Ix broke his back and neck in three places and had to wear a “halo brace” for many months, forcing a rare hiatus in their walking, but not their friendship.

A brief side story: at the time, Bob Ix was on the committee overseeing the renovation of the Belle Haven Club. Since he could not travel, the committee agreed to meet at his home. Someone forgot to mention Ix’s condition to the architect. When Ix opened the door, resplendent in full stainless-steel halo, the nonplussed architect blurted out: “How many channels does that get?”

The dynamic duo soon resumed their walks, which continued for a decade until another accident forced a pause. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit Greenwich, causing major damage and cutting off electricity for most of the town. In the dark, Wright Ferguson went upstairs to check on his wife, Joanne, when he tripped and fell backwards down the entire length of the stairs, tumbling many times and breaking his neck in the process. (The doctors later speculated that his instincts and training as an NCAA champion diver at Yale prevented the fall from proving fatal.)

The family called Greenwich Emergency Medical Service (GEMS) but debris and road flooding caused by Sandy prevented the ambulance from entering Belle Haven. Neighbors sprung into action, placing Ferguson carefully in the back of an SUV, bringing him to the spot where the ambulance was waiting, and carrying him over the fallen trees and flooded roadway. This act of heroism was one of many performed that day that did not get much attention, but succeeded in saving a life. After a few months in a plastic neck collar, Ferguson was able to rejoin Ix in their daily perambulation.

The walks became more sporadic in the ensuing five years, and ended when Bob Ix died in May of 2016 at age 86. Ferguson became the last man standing. Notwithstanding the love and support of his wonderful family, it was clear that he dearly missed his friends. Wright Ferguson died this past week, November 3rd, at the age of 90. He too will be sorely missed.

I have a mental image that helps me make some sense of all of this. It is an image of completion in the circle of life, a representation of the unconquerability and everlasting nature of true friendship.

In my mind’s eye, I see Amble, Meander & Stroll together again, just in a new location.

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