'The guy knew everybody': Trumbull zoning commissioner remembered for fairness, dedication

Larry LaConte, left, speaks with Ben Fronsaglia of Shelton at a 2014 fundraiser for Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti's gubernatorial campaign.

Larry LaConte, left, speaks with Ben Fronsaglia of Shelton at a 2014 fundraiser for Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti’s gubernatorial campaign.

Christian Abraham / Christian Abraham

TRUMBULL — Larry LaConte may have been a quiet man, but that’s mostly because he let his actions do all the talking.

“He beat me in 2015 when we ran for Planning and Zoning Commission,” said current commission member Tony Silber. “But even so, he was always warm and gracious. When he walked into a room, you always got a sense of his presence.”

LaConte died May 4 at age 82. The former iron worker turned restaurateur turned real estate agent was a fixture around town, belonging to American Legion Post 177, the Trumbull Rotary and Elks Club. He was also politically active and served as Grand Marshal of the 2019 Bridgeport Columbus Day Parade.

Larry LaConte shows off his personalized coffee mug during a meeting of the Trumbull Rotary.

Larry LaConte shows off his personalized coffee mug during a meeting of the Trumbull Rotary.

Contributed / Trumbull Rotary Club

Trumbull Economic Development Director Rina Bakalar, who works closely with the commission, remembered LaConte as someone who tended to stay quiet in commission meetings. But when he spoke up, it was usually to give an insight that could otherwise have been missed, she said.

“He was pro-development, but never if he thought it wasn’t in Trumbull’s best interest,” Bakalar said. “His questions always showed his concern for the community.”

Former First Selectman Ray Baldwin, who knew LaConte through the local veterans organizations, agreed.

“He was a really good guy, and always willing to volunteer,” Baldwin said. “He sat on the Planning & Zoning Commission as a Republican, but you would never know it by his votes. He always did what was best for the community.”

Richard Deecken, a Trumbull Republican who ran for office with LaConte in 2015, said the experience drove home how connected LaConte was to the town.

“We both ran for P&Z in 2015, and both races were very close. He won his race and I lost mine,” Deecken said. “But during the campaign, when we would be making campaign calls, every number that came up, he would say, ‘I know him, I’ll take this one.’ The guy knew everybody.”

Deecken also got a sense that when LaConte got involved, he got involved wholeheartedly. This was clear when LaConte tried to recruit Deecken into the Rotary Club.

“He wanted to sponsor me, but when you’re a high school teacher like I am, the 7 a.m. breakfast meetings just don’t work,” Deecken said. “I made the time to go to have breakfast, though, because when Larry asks you to go somewhere with him, you give him the respect and you go.”

Fellow Rotarian Michael Redgate, who ran for first selectman as an unaffiliated candidate in 2017, said the respect LaConte gave was equal to that he received.

“He said what he meant, and he always let you know what he liked about you,” Redgate said. “He had a way of encouraging people. Like when I was considering whether to run for first selectman, Larry was the one encouraging me to do it, even though we weren’t in the same party.”

Anthony Chory, who worked with LaConte on the commission, said LaConte was an example that a person didn’t have to draw attention to themselves to do good.

“He sponsored me into the Rotary, which was the best decision I ever made,” Chory said. “They’re a great group of people that do a lot of good, and being in Rotary is when I realized how involved he was in everything. He appeared to be a quiet guy, but he was always doing good for people.”

For all the people LaConte brought into the Rotary Club, perhaps his top Rotary recruit was himself, according to Cindy Penkoff, who met LaConte through Republican politics and became personal friends.

“I loved to talk to Larry about his life, his thoughts on issues and he was always encouraging no matter what it was I was attempting to accomplish,” Penkoff said. “We also spoke about Trumbull Rotary, an organization I had joined (and) became passionate about almost immediately. Larry decided he wanted to join, and asked if I would be his sponsor. I was honored and touched.”

LaConte tended to let others do the talking, Penkoff said.

“Larry was a quiet man when it came to his charity, but you could feel it just being around him,” she said. “He gave of himself freely and so many of us were the better for it.”