Some people fall into the moment and some people rise to the moment, but for a fraught moment in Easton’s recent history, both could be said of Bruce LePage. In the mid-90s, “land use” was the hot issue and development seemed the forgone conclusion. For many, “open space” was simply space waiting to be filled — with ballparks, sprawling homes, and (in one proposal) an 18-hole golf course.
But someone stood in the way. After a long career at IBM, Bruce was executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust, and nearing the end of a record-long run there too. He seemed to be at the center of every land-use fight in Fairfield county. Most of them were in Easton because — to paraphrase the bank robber when asked why he robbed banks — this was where the land was. Bruce was the immovable object in front of the implacable foe: Standing at every microphone before every board in every meeting that convened every time someone wanted to chip away at zoning, or plough under a field. In style, as in temperment, he could be pugnacious. It was not a role for the genteel, or for the tweedy gentleman farmer, of which Bruce was neither.
In fact, there was something of the “Swamp Yankee” in Bruce — the flinty New England archetype he so admired. I’d always assumed those many successful years at the world’s most demanding corporation had molded him into who he was. But — no — Bruce was simply Bruce: Deep thinking, passionate, a man of few words but particularly well-chosen ones.
I would often see him on Flirt Hill off of Freeborn Road after Trout Brook Valley was preserved, usually on some midsummer’s day. He was a distant figure, standing by his pickup, or methodically mowing between rows of desiccated apple trees. He’d stop, we’d chat, then move on. There wasn’t much to say, but always the same thing to acknowledge: There could have been a house where we were standing, or maybe the eighth hole of someone’s fever dream.
Instead: An unobstructed view to Long Island Sound to the south, and the spread of the Aspetuck River Valley below us.
That was just a part of Bruce’s legacy, but there was so much else, too, most notably the Aspetuck Land Trust, which today is the premier land trust in the state. Bruce never cared about “legacy” and it was certainly a word he never used — scorn, yes. He was an old soul bound to the unyielding soil of Easton. By osmosis or empathy, he seemed to also know the people who had walked this land long before him. Either way, he was one of them. That was legacy enough.
On that spot on Flirt Hill, he could see the past as well as the future: The silent, remote “dens” of Trout Brook, the ridges of stunted pin oak and mountain laurel. The hills, the woods, the streams and all those that called these places home — the martens, foxes, coyote, the birds, the hawks, the migratories that descended on Flirt Hill in countless numbers every spring and fall.
Bruce saw all that, esteemed it, fought for it. We are indebted to him because he did.