Weston Voices: Tom Selldorff, WFTA Champion Emeritus

Tom Selldorff and wife Carolyn, courtesy photo.

The Owl has to admit to complete bias. She has her favorites around town, and sometimes outside of town, and were this an actual news media page, you might care about that. And yet, here you are. So here’s one of my favorite people, and yes, Weston has recently had to cede this titan to Needham, a town about which I know nothing except that their mascot is a rocket and sometimes I drive through it to try to avoid Route 128, but it never works out in my favor. Yes, I am talking about Tom Selldorff, who moved from Weston in 2019, and Pollywog Lane will never be the same. Fortunately for me, Tom is one of the most email-responsive people on the planet, and his thoughts still turn often to our little town and its forests and trails.

Tom was on the board of Weston Forest & Trail Association for many years, president for 22 of them. He is also responsible for designing the beautifully remarkable metal trail signs for WFTA in 1980. These trail signs are so envied that the Board periodically receives inquiries from other land trusts about their designer. Three years ago, WFTA updated its three-pine tree logo to incorporate the trail marker as its signature design. Quite literally, Tom has left his mark on Weston.

WFTA trail marker on a white pine.

On a personal note, I met Tom a couple of years after I moved to Weston in 2014. His infectious enthusiasm for our town’s unique open spaces and for getting people out onto the trails is what brought me onto the board for Weston Forest & Trail Association, with the help of Joel Angiolillo, current president of WFTA. At the then age of 89 (he is now 93), Tom was in charge of the webpage for WFTA, and patiently explained to me about 4000000000 times how to do things on Wix. I continue my lack of technical skills (though now on WordPress) and Tom continues to amaze me with his skills. What I and many others know, is that Weston would not be the same without the steady hand of Tom’s WFTA leadership, emeritus.

If you don’t know Tom, I hope this interview will convey a small part of just how wonderful he is.

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[Owl]: You are often mentioned as one of the “titans” of open space stewardship in Weston. When did you move to Weston, and how did you get involved in caring for open spaces, and eventually the WFTA?

[Tpm]: Our family moved to Weston in 1967, returning to the US after 7 years in Europe. We bought our house and an acre and a half of land on Pollywog Lane (for $53,000 at the time) and lived there until 2019. I loved the open spaces and the extensive conservation land in Town and joined WFTA shortly after coming to Town. I vividly recall meetings in the 1960s with like-minded folks at Bill and Harriet Elliston’s house on South Avenue. The Ellistons, George and Nancy Bates, Hugo Uyterhoeven, Lee Cohen, and Francis Brooks were particularly important in creating and fostering the growth of WFTA, protecting the open spaces, and making Weston’s rural character appreciated by everybody in Town. More than anyone, thanks are due to George Bates. Both as the Association’s Treasurer for countless years and as the guiding light of Land conservation in Weston he was responsible for the wonderful amenity that is represented by thousands of acres of open space here for everyone’s enjoyment.

How do you see the changes in Weston over the time you lived here, and now live close by? What’s getting better? What’s our biggest challenge?

Change is inevitable, and nowhere is this more evident than in real estate near a metropolis like Boston. With the turnpike making Weston an easy commute to Boston, with the suburbs becoming more attractive as a place to live, the pressures of real estate development are immense. The open spaces that make Weston attractive as a place to live are increasingly more difficult to sustain. It’s a great credit to Weston’s government – and to the voters of Weston – that preserving conservation land has always received great support. WFTA and Land’s Sake and the Conservation Commission are doing a fine job making sure everyone in Town is aware and appreciative of the importance of the woods, fields, and trails that mean so much to living in Weston.

Tom at the helm. Courtesy photo

When you weren’t in the woods of Weston, you were sailing, and you now continue to sail at the age of 93. Do you still compete on a team?  Where is your favorite place to sail?

We’re still sailing a lot, though we’ve begun to cut back on racing. At my age, I’m mainly a passenger now, not as active as I used to (and would like to) be. We have a wonderful group of friends who sail with us, and the waters off the south coast of Massachusetts are as good as anywhere in the world.

How do you feel about hippos and why?

Hippos can be cuddly and gentle, but also very fierce. It was a kind of an accident that Clyde the hippo became the mascot of our sailboat, but it’s been a fun avatar. Our large collection includes a 12’ high inflatable hippo, and of course, everybody aboard has to wear a shirt with the hippo logo.

You recently had an article written about you in the Boston Globe regarding the recovery of art stolen from your family during the Holocaust. What have you learned from this experience?

Our family comes from Vienna, Austria and my grandfather had an important art collection that was looted by the Nazis at the outset of WWII. Part of it was recovered by the “Museum Men” at the end of the war and stored for over 50 years in the care of national museums in the country whence it was taken.  Finally, in the 1990s the world’s museums jointly sponsored laws that provided for the return of looted art to lawful heirs, and we were fortunate to be able to recover a number of pieces for our family. They were in our living room in Weston until we moved, and are now at the Worcester Museum of Art and part of their extensive collection of Renaissance Art. My grandfather was a passionate student, collector, and lover of art and we’re glad – and feel it’s important – to pass that on to our children and grandchildren.

We miss you on the board of WFTA — your passion and energy for making things better are missed.

The feeling is mutual. I greatly miss the energy, enthusiasm, and fellowship of the WFTA Board. But I know the Association is in good hands as demonstrated by the increase in membership and participation by both old and new residents of Weston.

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[Ed: to join or renew your membership with WFTA, please go to https://www.westonforesttrail.org/join-us. Do it for Tom]

Cheers, Tom

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