Hartford and The Hartford News lost one of its best friends on Tuesday, December 20, 2012 as Ethel M. Austin passed away three months shy of her 97th birthday.
In her weekly column, “Senior Scene,” Ethel often advised readers that keeping active and involved was the best way to stay young. And she certainly practiced what she preached.
If there was an opportunity to get involved, Ethel generally took it. She was a member of the Asylum Hill NRZ, the Republican Town Committee and many other boards and committees. After she retired after a long career in business, she became one of the best known advocates for seniors in the state. She served several years on the Hartford Commission on Aging and was appointed to the State Commission on Aging by Governor Lowell Weicker. When her first term was up she was reappointed by Governor John G. Rowland. Under the commission's rules a member can only serve two terms and so she was retired in 2001. She was also a founder in 1974 of Farmington Valley Chapter, Sweet Adelines and a member until May 2002. In addition, she volunteered for many years for the Miss Senior Connecticut Pageant as well as many other events. She also participated in the Third Age program at Leadership Greater Hartford, which encourages retired persons to get more involved in the community.
Ethel delighted in the music and movies of the “good old days” but was always willing to try something new. One day in the 1990’s, when Ethel was well into her 80s, she walked into our office here at the Hartford News on Franklin Avenue and announced that she wanted to learn how to use the computer’s word processing program. In a few weeks, she was submitting her column on a disc, which made things a lot easier for all concerned.
Ethel had a well-deserved reputation for speaking her mind, whether she was talking to the governor or someone who was littering outside her home on South Marshal Street. But she was always very sensitive to the needs of others. When she was recovering from hip surgery and unable to drive, I agreed to drive her home each week after she came to the office to type her column. I asked if she wanted me to also pick her up as well and she responded, “No, I have someone else who has agreed to drive me to the office. I know I’ll need a lot of assistance until I’m driving again so I’ve divided things up so I’ll not be too much of a burden on any one person.”?I appreciated her thoughtfulness and en¬joyed our weekly rides to South Marshal Street.
A resident of Hartford since 1943, Ethel was the only child of Stephen Francis Austin, Jr. and Anna Charlotte Kathmeyer Austin. Born in New York City, March 11, 1915, she lived in Hartford’s Asylum Hill neighborhood for many years and was later a resident of Armsmear, 70 Wethersfield Ave., Hartford. In her last years, she resided at Valerie Manor in Torrington.
Originally trained as a dental hygienist, she changed careers several times. Employed as a Catalog Order Store Manager for Mont¬gomery Ward during the early part of World War II, she later joined W.T. Grant Co. as a personnel supervisor in Bridgeport. She was transferred to the Hartford store in 1943 when they were having difficulty getting employees during the war. She left there to become an assistant buyer in G. Fox and Co. While there she became a retail teacher for the state, teaching retail employees basic retail subjects in evening classes.
In time Ethel moved over to Albert Steiger and Co. as a buyer and later went into business for herself in Meriden. But Meriden hit hard times and eventually the business closed. Ethel returned to Hartford and changed careers to insurance. She retired from Travelers in 1979 at age 65.
But “retirement” became a second career for Ethel. She soon secured a part-time position for two days a week, and then moved to Salvation Army Senior Center, where she became their Benefits Advocate for four days a week. She retired from there in 2000 after 17 years. About 25 years ago, she began writing “Senior Scene,” for Asylum Hill Ink and then for the Hartford News (originally South¬side News). During the 1990's, at the request of the Hartford Courant she also wrote a column for seniors on the Courant’s Neighborhoods Page until the page was discontinued in January 2002. In addition, she hosted a TV show, also called Senior Scene, on Hartford Access Channel Five for several years.
Ethel is survived by her first cousin Priscilla G. Cobb of Natick, MA; by her first cousin once removed David Austin Sayre and his wife Karen of Leesburg, FL, and her Godchild, Sharon L. Cann. She also leaves very close friends Barbara West and her family of Simsbury and Old Lyme, as well as the Ebner family of Harwinton.
A Memorial Service will be held at a later date at Trinity Episcopal Church. Ethel’s ashes will be interred in Trinity's Memorial Garden. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to Trinity Episcopal Church, 120 Sigourney Street, Hartford, CT 06105 where she was a member, or to the Colt Circle at Armsmear, 80 Wethersfield Ave., Hartford, CT 06114, to be used to keep flowers blooming in the gardens. Arrangements are being handled by The Ahern Funeral Homes, Inc., www.ahernfuneralhome.com.