Ten Minutes with Jeanne Harrison
Community Leader and Fairfield Patriot
Jeanne Harrison is a long time community leader and volunteer in town, but perhaps her most notable achievement is painting more than 300 of Fairfield’s fire hydrants to resemble British Redcoats. A 40-year resident of Fairfield, Harrison has served on a long list of community organizations, including the Historic District Commission, the Old Post Road Association, the Fairfield Teen Center, and the Police Athletic Association for whom she taught arts and crafts to youth groups.
How did you happen to start painting Fairfield’s fire hydrants to look like British Redcoats? Just before Fairfield’s 350th-anniversary celebration, I read about a town in the Midwest where they were painting fire hydrants to resemble George Washington. So I got the idea that Fairfield should paint their hydrants as British Redcoats, to commemorate the British burning of Fairfield in 1779. So I thought it would be appropriate to put them on our fire hydrants. Former First Selectman John Sullivan liked this idea, and I have painted more than 300. First Selectman Tetreau asked me to paint more this year, as part of Fairfield’s 375th anniversary. I hope to do about thirty to fifty more, but this time I have enlisted help from the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club and the local Boy and Girl Scout troops, because I’m 82 now.
How exactly do you paint the fire hydrants, and where are they? Painting them is a three-day job. There is no pattern, it is all done freehand. I paint the head and boots first, then the red jackets, yes, pigtails and gold braid.
How have Fairfielders reacted when they see you painting the hydrants? I would say that 99 percent of them are very happy about it. I’ve had some wonderful experiences. Once, a little boy was watching and I asked if he wanted to help. We worked on the hydrant for a few hours until I noticed his mother was crying. She told me they were tears of happiness because the boy had terminal leukemia and she hadn’t seen him so happy in a long time. I told them they could come with me every day.
Where did you meet your husband, Wayne? We met in ninth grade in our hometown of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. We got married on Leap Day in February 1952, so we celebrate every four years. We had four children, Terri, Beth, Scott and Rob; ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. We lost Terri to breast cancer in 2009.
Why is it important to remember and preserve Fairfield’s history? Our town has incredible history, and I hope that the British Redcoats on the fire hydrants make people stop and think about it. When you study the past, you learn the future.
Where is your favorite place in Fairfield? My favorite place is the boat basin on the Rooster River. The best time is early in the morning when the geese and swans wake up. The flowers are magnificent—in the summer, there’s sea lavender and thistle. You can walk along the river at low tide and see the fish coming in, the snappers. There’s peace and quiet there—it’s my sanctuary.