[Click any image to enlarge. Don passed away in 2010. ]
“Swaz” … “the bull” … always has the last word … “That’s amazing” … Big man on campus … leader of the S.S.O. … Hopes to enter Tufts in the fall.
Born: 11-Nov-1937, New Orleans, LA
Died: 2-Apr-2010 Weston, CT
Don M. vonLiebermann, 72, a 60-year resident of Weston and Westport, husband of Mary (Gardiner) vonLiebermann, died April 2, 2010, in his home after a long illness.
Born Nov. 5, 1937, in New Orleans, a son of the late William H. and Dolores (Powers) vonLiebermann, he moved to Weston in 1949. A 1955 graduate of Staples High School, he was president of his class and a standout in football and track and field. After attending Hamilton College, vonLiebermann enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served in the White House Army Signal Corps during both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1961.
After working briefly as a journalist for the Westport Town Crier, vonLiebermann entered the franchise marketing field. In 1969, he joined Cutco Industries as a director of marketing. He purchased the company in 1987 and served as chief operating officer until its sale and his retirement in 1999.
vonLiebermann was involved for many years with the Weston Little League, first as a coach, and eventually as commissioner, and also with the annual Weston Memorial Day Fair. An enthusiastic and accomplished sportsman, he was a long-time member of the Weston Gun Club, and served as the club’s president from 2001 to 2004. He was known for his sense of humor, heart, compassion and generosity of spirit.
Survivors, in addition to his wife of 47 years, include one son, Jeffrey vonLiebermann of Weston; one daughter, Mary Kate Mitchell and her husband, Scott of Fairfield; a close friend and caregiver, Pete Lee; and three grandchildren, Clayton, Kathryn and Margaret Mitchell.
He was predeceased in 1991 by a son, Tovey; and his sister, Ina Atkins.
Friends are invited to attend a Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 8, at Saint Francis of Assisi Church, 35 Norfield Road, Weston; interment will follow in Assumption Cemetery, 73 Greens Farms Road, Westport.
The Harding Funeral Home, 210 Post Road E., Westport, is assisting the family with the arrangements.
Contributions in vonLiebermann’s memory may be made to Weston Volunteer Emergency Medical Service, P.O. Box 1163, Weston, CT 06883.
Be sure to check out a couple of thoughtful classmate recollections:
By Noel Castiglia…
One can only smile when Don’s name is mentioned. Who of our friends could instantly make us laugh at ourselves or at some pun or story Don told. He made us better people. He knew each of us in an intimate way: knew our strengths and weaknesses and could make light of both and make us more aware of our own truth and our own reality.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from Don is the importance of family. Don did his very best to always be there for his family…wherever they were. He was most happy when he was talking about his family. Any discussion about his grandchildren would always brighten his smile and bring a twinkle to his eye. He had great strength in coping with family difficulties and tragedies.
On the lighter side, I first remember Don when he joined us from Weston in the 9th grade at Bedford Junior High. We were in the Leaders Club together for a short time although I got asked to leave by coach Anderson for being a bit recalcitrant. It was evident that, as time went on, Don would continue to be a Leader: always jovial in accepting responsibilities, leading us into trouble in when we needed a bit more amusement.
In High School I realized Don and I shared a common interest in firearms. When I was refurbishing a double barreled 12 gauge shotgun we talked about making it into a sawed-off shotgun. Today, we would probably have been questioned by the police or FBI. In a Shop class our Bataan Death March Survivor teacher, Sigfried Schreiner, helped us get it right on the band saw and we made it into a real weapon.
That led to the question: How do we check it out? Will it work or will it just blow the end of the barrel off and send shrapnel flying all over the place? Well, we were inventive guys so after Don decided a safer approach to the test was to tie it firmly to a tree and aim it harmlessly toward another tree. Don assumed responsibility as always [and we always let him]. He held the stock to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. The blast took down two or three trees, thankfully not killing Don.
On one hunting foray into the Devils Den area near what once was Yale lake, a few friends and I entered via my Uncle Leon Lachat’s property. We were in search of a white deer that had been spotted in the neighborhood. We all followed Don as he had the only real rifle (we had shotguns). Thankfully the local game warden, Al Jack, was not after us that day as he usually was, and we harmlessly beat the brush and tried to track that deer down like the Indians used to. Unfortunately we never saw our elusive prey, but some of us with shotguns did get a partridge or two.
Summer evenings at the beach with Don… Local police, as I recall, were a little more lenient than they are today. We may have had a beer or two and, in later years, Mike Cleary or J.D. McMahon might provide some white port. Thus fortified we would head out around town to see what mischief we could get into. Of course, we would somehow always end up at the Westnor Diner where—on any given evening—something interesting was sure to happen…
After high school as the years went on when Don was around there was always a crew of us: Vince DePierro, Marty Caselnova, Mike Cleary, Sandy Frey and others ready to leave the beach to hangout at Bruce Kent’s summer vacation home. On some of those halcyon days Don’s famous wry grin would emerge, foretelling of some mischief to come. Or he would tell a quick-witted story about us, or him, that would break up the whole crowd.
This was also the first time I remember pretty young Mary Gardiner and Don together. Both had that mischievous way about them when they have an idea or a joke or funny tale to tell. Perhaps it is this secret funny life they both enjoyed together that attracted them to each other and bonded them in life these many years.
Don was also quick with a good idea or solution to a business problem. He was always accomplishing something. Always able to do that NY Times crossword puzzle or answer a trivia question. But perhaps for me the best of times with Don was a trip Ann and I took to Italy with Don and Mary. Who would imagine as we drove deeper into the Italian countryside and visited many small villages—who would imagine that Don would be the one who spoke Italian and got the wine gifts from all the places we stayed…!?
The most memorable moment for me was when at long last we found the little Calabrese mountain village of Lauropoli, far up in the middle of nowhere (people from Rome don’t visit often). This was the town from where my father’s ancestors emigrated over 100 years ago. We were welcomed by relatives of my great grandmother who spoke Italian and very little English. While I was trying to explain who some of my relatives were, there was Don with some broken Italian humming a few bars of the score from The Godfather explaining that one of my relatives was a gangster…!
We had a terrific visit… :)
On the way there Don the Driver, and Noel the Navigator, ended up at the top of a gravel road overlooking a cliff. It was so scary for Mary and Ann that they got out and walked back down the dirt road to safety while Don successfully backed down the steep hill. This was this same driver who got hit by buses twice on Almalfi Drive! (We survived.)
At one point in Toramino Don drove up the mountain pursuing a “valuable” bottle of Limoncello on the wrong side of a winding mountain road, before I reminded him he was not driving in England! Don‘s wonderful bass voice was never so clear in evidencing his surprise at being on the wrong side. I cannot recall ever laughing so much and for so long as on that trip.
At the end in Sicily Don was never so glad as when the hotel offered to return the battered rental car. He even gave the concierge a couple of bottles of vino and large Provolone cheese wedge as a tip for taking the car.
It has been a real privilege to know Don as a friend. We all have our memories of Don; we all respect his intellect. He was unique—one of a kind. Always there with a helping hand when times were hard and always there when times were good to lead the celebration. I will always be grateful for the quality time I’ve shared in my life with Don. I know as I continue along life’s circuitous path his spirit will always be there when I need some words of wisdom before making a decision: What would Don say about this…?”
April 11, 2010
By Bruce Kent…
Don was the funniest and smartest man I ever met. His gift for the extemporaneous was remarkable.
[Note: Here Bruce begins addressing Don in the first person, as if Don were still alive.]
“I will never forget the time my wife du jour, you, Mary [Don’s wife], and I were sitting in your den during a visit back East (we were staying in your cottage which you always graciously made available to me)… I was admiring the photos on display of your wedding, asking all sorts of questions about it and exclaiming how beautiful the setting was, how much I admired the longevity of your marriage, etc. etc… [At that moment I noticed that] both you and Mary were looking at me very strangely. When I asked “why” you advised me that I was your Best Man at the wedding!
“To this day I am shocked that I have zero recall of the event, though considering the way we used to drink I suppose I should not be surprised.
“At our 2005 reunion I sat at your right hand at the Smith Institute [where Don was recovering from a stroke] as your classmates came to visit and pay homage.
“I leaned over and whispered to you: You are and always have been a better man than me, Don… You smiled and looked at me and said nothing. But we both knew. It was something I had been trying to say to you for decades.
“I miss you terribly, my old friend. I think of you daily…”
By George (Cliff) Clifford…
Crossing paths with Don … just never seemed to happen. Don, of course, was a BMOC. Big Man On Campus. Whatever campus he was on, Don seemed secure upon the throne of the BMOC. And that was, to my mind, the most remarkable thing about Don.
I, on the other hand, was an SMOC. Just one of the larger (by definition) class of fellow students who—for varying reasons—didn’t live in the limelight. It is simply a fact of adolescent social architecture, I suppose, that the two classes—BMOC and SMOC—do not indulge in much cross-pollination. (Except, of course, for those furtive, extra-credit rendezvous by opposite-gender participants—the ones discussed in muted voices and raised eyebrows… )
That said, I do remember one exchange with Don which I have found, over the years, impossible to forget. It was senior year. I was out in the parking lot (the one closest to town) after school hoping to find a ride downtown. Perhaps this was before I had bought that ’39 Pontiac coupe from Geoff Bullard, I do not recall. Plus I digress.
In any case I had no ride. But at that moment there was Don coming through the doorway—about to exit the building, himself. The question, I thought, was simple: “Hey Don, could I get a ride with you downtown…?” To which came the reply that I have for some reason never been able to forget. He stood at the door for a moment, looking down, studying me like some Biology class specimen—a fellow student (but an SMOC) having the nerve to address him, holding a violin case, waiting for a response. To which he replied:
“Why don’t you attach a propeller to that thing and ride it downtown…?”
I do not recall that I said anything in reply. I doubt it because my mouth is still partially open, after all these years, in stunned surprise. There was little if any malice in his manner or tone. It was simply that good-natured Don Rickles put-down way he had with contemporaries. Seriously, I don’t think I took offense. I asked for it, didn’t I…? Just Don being Don…!
As we both lived in Westport in adult life for many years, I got to know Don a little. Though never a close friend as was the case with Noel and Vinnie and Bruce, Don and I maintained a fine acquaintanceship marked by mutual respect and a mutual appreciation for Life’s occasional ridiculousness. I could not agree more with Noel’s assessment in another post. Don was truly unique. A standout among his peers. One of a kind. A born leader.
Once again, impossible, ever, to forget…
January 27, 2016
P.S. Got a ride that day from some other good soul. It wasn’t Don… :-)