Every life has a history, uniquely its own. Some lives strive forward contributing at countless intervals in what initially appears to be small ways. But often, it’s only when they are no longer with us, at the summing up, when we can truly appreciate the largeness of what they left us.
One such person was Millicent Rudd Best of Weston, a Connecticut treasure by all reckoning.
Her passions varied. Ranking high among her concerns was the environment. She would say, “We have only one chance with this planet; let’s not blow it.”
That commitment sharpened in the early 70s on her visits to Vermont, where the Bests had a house. There, on the original Earth Day in late April, people throughout the state would pitch in to make the land greener. They would pick up anything and everything not of Mother Nature’s doing. Thus the idea of Green-Up Day came about.
A doer par excellence, Millie brought the concept back to Weston in 1972. Vermont’s Green-Up Day became Weston’s own. And for 32 years she worked with groups in Weston on the last Saturday in April to remove from the town’s roads an array of litter — from old tires to old bedsprings and everything in between.
What was good for Weston was good for Connecticut. Finally, this unassuming activist, with the help of local legislators in 1995, got the governor to declare the last Saturday of April as Green-Up Day for the state.
A member of the Garden Club, the Historical Society, and the Appraisers Association of America, a licensed real estate broker, a fund-raiser, an entrepreneur, having started her antiques venture, Best & Company, a winner of Grange awards for her tomatoes, photography and sewing, an environmentalist, a mother of three, her credits fill a large section of any Who’s Who list — as would the spirit and energy she brought to every phase of her life.
Justice of the peace
As a justice of the peace, she presided over many wedding ceremonies, always pleased with the lasting success of these marriages. Her son Steve said, “It was the sprinkling on them of Mom’s Millie Magic that made those relationships last.”
On the Republican Town Committee for 45 years, she savored democracy in action. Through the Weston High School intern program she worked tirelessly with the goal that future generations would embrace governance ethically and with civility.
No account of Millie would be complete without sharing her thirst for learning and her love affair with antiques. Believing one of a parent’s main responsibilities was to supplement a child’s education, talk about the world, politics, and the news of the day would abound at the Bests’ dinner table, always with respect for all sides. Bugs Bunny and his like always took second billing, first to Walter Cronkite and later to Tom Brokaw.
As for art and antiques, she ran many auctions and ventured far and wide to find that special piece, usually to resell as part of a fund-raiser for a church, a needy group or a charity.
Cheryl Purvis, a friend who worked with Millie on antiques fairs and tag sales, said, “She never met a piece of art she didn’t like, and believed virtually anything old could be restored. She would find a bag of mangled sticks, once a chair and implore craft artisans to put it together. And they did.”
So profound was her interest in antiques that in 1997, at the age of 72, she graduated from Fairfield University with a college degree in art history.
Steve confirmed this affection saying, “We spent 10% of our childhood either in antiques shops or waiting out in a parked car because they wouldn’t let my sister, Susan, my brother, Bill, or me in. We knew more about early American furniture and pewter than any other kids in the state of Connecticut.”
Millie, born in Garden City, N.Y., came to Weston with her husband, Ed, in 1954. She left us on the sixth of July of 2004 at the age of 78.
That year in April, she came to the Kiwanis meeting to rally the group for Green-Up Day. She said, “This may be the last year I’ll be doing this. But I want it to continue.” She offered no reason as to why she might not be back. Millie was ill. She was a very private and modest person, and few knew of her cancer.
And indeed Green-Up Day in Weston has continued, each last Saturday of April. Moreover, the Kiwanis Club established the Millie Best Environmental Award to be given annually to the individual who best exemplifies her love and concern for our good earth.
“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,” from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751), is a well-known line in English poetry. The elegy speaks of villagers, stunted by the limitations of country living, never reaching full promise.
Not so for Millie Best, a life fully bloomed, her ashes resting in Weston’s Norfield churchyard.
Editor’s Note: As part of the townwide Green-Up celebration, taking place on Saturday, April 27, the Kiwanis Club of Weston hands out the Millie Best Environmental Award, a recognition of a person or group who has followed in the footsteps of Green-Up Day founder, Westonite Millie Best.Mr. Negroni knew Ms. Best for years — he sat behind her at RTC meetings and called her “a truly outstanding human being.” As the Millie Best Award goes to the Weston Garden Club this year, Mr. Negroni wanted to make sure the next generation of Westonites did not forget who Millie Best was and what she did to help make Weston a better place.