From this home, the Neligans made Ridgefield a better place
By Gerri Lewis
Photographs by Alan Goldfinger
Like so many Ridgefielders, Dr. and Mrs. Patrick Neligan were enticed to town by the charming village and stately homes lining Main Street. The year was 1956 and the adventuresome young couple, pregnant with their first child and far from their native Ireland, had already been in New York City for two years. They had been lured to the States when Dr. Sir Daniel Davies, then physician to King George VI, and Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin, sponsored Dr. Neligan for a fellowship at Cornell University. He ultimately refused in favor of a position at St. Vincent’s Hospital and after two years, friends suggested he consider a hospital in Connecticut, a place the Neligans had barely heard of—but where the laws were liberal enough to allow the Neligans to stay in the country.
Although Dr. Neligan had offers from numerous other prestigious hospitals throughout Connecticut, Norwalk Hospital offered to house his family as well. The Neligans remember driving up Branchville Road and suddenly landing in the idyllic town they would soon call home. The deal was sealed when Dr. Theodore Safford invited Neligan to partner in his family practice. Busy raising their growing family of six children, the Neligans nevertheless expended tremendous energy in their new community. Sharing a joint passion for healthcare, the couple spent the next four decades advocating for a higher health standard for Ridgefield.
In 1970, a time when the town was plagued with failing wells and poorly designed septic systems, Neligan became the town’s first health director and instituted regulations. He initiated a restaurant inspection program, promoted the concept of paramedics providing round-the-clock medical coverage, and started the first public health clinics in town, which the RVNA continues to sponsor.
Until his retirement in 1995, Neligan served on almost every committee of the medical staff at Norwalk Hospital including vice president of medical affairs, medical director, and director of medical education. In 1975, his peers elected him chief of staff, and he was given the William J. Tracey, M.D., Award for “exemplary commitment and philanthropic leadership.”
Even in retirement, Patrick Neligan’s interest in promoting better health options didn’t wane. Concerned about the people of South Norwalk, where poverty was extreme, he spearheaded efforts to bring the Norwalk Community Health Center, opened in 1999, to hundreds of families needing primary medical care.
Through it all, Veronica Neligan—Vera to all who know her—was right beside her husband in his volunteer efforts. She was also director of Garden Club of America and a longtime member of the Ridgefield Garden Club, served on the Board of Trustees at Norwalk Hospital, and—as one of her own most valued contributions—was an original trustee of the Ridgefield Historical Society.
What Vera truly championed, say her peers, was the addition of Medicare as a payor source for home healthcare, which opened the doors for the RVNA to offer home help, literally changing the way it did business. An invaluable contributor to the RVNA since 1956, Vera served as president of its board of directors and in October was honored for “The Gift of Time and Expertise.”
Today, the Neligans are contemplating another change. They have put their beloved Innisfree, the 88-acre West Mountain estate they have called home for half a century, on the market, listing it with David Everson of William Raveis for $15 million. The move will uproot them from a home laden with fond memories of a time when the house was filled with people for fundraisers, parties, and family events—especially on St Patrick’s Day. But the majestic estate has become too large for just the two of them.
On a brooding afternoon, with a storm threatening to break at any moment, a regal Vera smiles and, with more than a hint of Irish brogue, reminisces about the heydays at Innisfree. Now, with the couple’s six children, spouses, and 15 “wonderful” grandchildren for support, a new adventure on the horizon is just another step in the right direction. n