Reporter, author lives with history

Connecticut Post - Sept. 2, 2007

Rita Papazian was steeped in the town's history after she and her husband bought a house in the beach area in the early 1970s.

Papazian was a reporter for the Fairfield Citizen-News, covering the town's Historic District Commission and Fairfield Public Library, and the town's history was in her backyard.

Papazian lived in the neighborhood where Fairfield was settled in 1639, and British troops had marched up Beach Road on July 7, 1779, to burn Fairfield to the ground.

"Hobart is still there," Papazian said of a house at 289 Beach Road that survived the burning of Fairfield. "It's our connection to the history. It represents our independence and our individuality and building a life for ourselves."

"We live with the history around us."

Papazian, a community journalist for 30 years, is the author of "Remembering Fairfield," a newly published book about the town's founding and history, government and politics, neighborhoods, architecture, noteworthy residents, family-owned businesses and legends.

Papazian learned about the town's history as a reporter, and she lived its recent history as a reporter and resident, recalling visits to landmark family-owned businesses that have since closed and days when the town was less developed and its pace was less hurried.

"They say, 'When you want to be a writer, write what you know,' and it's true. Besides my own life, what I know is Fairfield," Papazian said. "I do have this passion for Fairfield. I feel it's so representative of America, the America as we love it and we want it to remain."

Papazian wrote "Remembering Fairfield" from November to March and included articles she had written for the Fairfield Citizen-News in the 1970s and articles that appeared in a commemorative magazine she published in 1989 on the 350th anniversary of the town's founding.

"Remembering Fairfield" is structured after the commemorative magazine and includes information from a series of articles on neighborhoods and family-owned businesses that Papazian wrote for the Fairfield Citizen-News.

"The family businesses and the neighborhoods, those are the core strengths of Fairfield," Papazian said.

Papazian said her book is a good way for a new resident to learn about the town and is a "quick read" on town history. "It also can be used as a guide. You can take your own tour," she said.

Papazian said her book is structured after the commemorative magazine, but it's much longer and includes original research, writing and photography.

"Remembering Fairfield," published by The History Press in Charleston, S.C., totals 128 pages and includes 50 photographs, many of which Papazian took herself.

Papazian knows about the little things that make a town special, and buying flowers from the front porch of a house on Mill Plain Road captured what she loved about 1970s Fairfield an undeveloped landscape and a resident who had the time and interest to know her neighbors.

"Those little touches are what really makes a town," she said.

Papazian now lives in Killingworth. She has written free-lance articles for the Connecticut section of the New York Times, worked in public relations and curretly teaches freshman English at Middlesex Community College in Middletown.

But Papazian's roots are in community journalism in Fairfield and she said she developed a strong connection to the town.

"When you're reporting on Main Street, America day in and day out, you feel this strong connection, and it evolved into a passion," she said.

Papazian said she was "a nervous wreck" when her book arrived at her house and that she suffered the insecurities writers feel after publication. "I was afraid to read it. I was really nervous something would sound wrong," she said. But Gus Serra, a General Electric Co. spokesman, broke the spell by sending an e-mail to Papazian in which he ordered two dozen copies to hand out at a community event.

"That was very important, to get that reassurance," Papazian said. "After he ordered 24 copies, I could read the book."

Papazian will sign copies of "Remembering Fairfield," priced at $19.99, at 7 p.m. Thursday at Barnes and Noble in Westport and at 2 p.m. Sept. 15 at Borders Books, Music & Cafe in Fairfield. A book discussion and signing will take place at 3 p.m., Oct. 13 at Fairfield Public Library.