Remembering Paula Gibson Krimsky

Paula Gibson Krimsky, who was a member of the faculty for more than 20 years, the granddaughter of William Hamilton Gibson, the school’s third Headmaster, and the wife of the late George Atwell Krimsky ’60, passed away on August 30 after a brief yet valiant battle with cancer. She was remembered by friends and colleagues this week as a gifted storyteller who dedicated more than two decades of her life to unearthing, sharing and preserving the history of the school and its founder, Frederick Gunn.
 

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, she moved with her family to Hudson, Ohio, when she was about eight years old. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Smith College and worked as a bookkeeper and accountant. In 1970, she married George, a Roxbury native and U.S. Army veteran whose career as a journalist took them all over the world and earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1978. The couple moved to Washington, Connecticut, in 1996, with their children, Alissa and Michael, and two years later, Paula joined The Gunnery to plan and promote its yearlong sesquicentennial celebration.

In an interview with The Litchfield County Times in 1999, Krimsky recounted that when the school acquired the estate of Alfred Bourne in 1958, boxes and file cabinets filled with old photographs and historical documents made their way from the closets, attics and basements of other buildings on campus to the basement of Bourne Hall. That was where, 40 years later, Krimsky and a team of volunteers took on the enormous task of dusting off, identifying, cataloging, and preserving bits and pieces of the school’s history. From this treasure trove of 150-year-old handwritten letters, glass negatives, memory books, piles of papers, old newspapers and literary magazines emerged the narrative of Frederick Gunn we know so well today.

“I feel this sense of urgency to save stuff,” Krimsky told the newspaper at the time. “This is a lifelong job. The research to follow these threads, you know, it will go on.”

And so it did. Krimsky led a corps of dedicated volunteers – Judy LaMuniere, Sally Woodroofe, Jane Boyer, the late Muriel Smerekanicz, LaVerne Prager, Susan Jackson (Krimsky’s sister), Ann Kearney WR’80 P’23, and the late Elizabeth Miller GP’12 (great-grandaughter of Frederick Gunn), who went through box by box, building the framework for an archive that today holds one of the best collections of 19th century correspondence in New England, 30,000 photographs beginning with the daguerreotypes, a poem written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose sons were students of Mr. Gunn, and the oldest known photograph of a baseball game in progress, which took place at an early alumni weekend and in which Mr. Gunn was the umpire.

During her tenure, Krimsky served as Director of Communications, School Archivist and Editor of The Gunnery Bulletin, a role that allowed her to share her knowledge of the school’s history, and catalog the stories of alumni near and far. She also taught history, founded the Gunn Scholar program and served as its advisor for more than a decade, and coordinated the Speaker Series, attracting Henry Kissinger, Frank McCourt and many other notable writers, politicians, poets and athletes, who shared their experiences with students. 

In 2016, Krimsky curated an extensive exhibit celebrating the life and legacy of Mr. Gunn on the occasion of his 200th birthday. On view for three weeks at The Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens in Washington Depot, the exhibit was the culmination of her nearly two decades of research, and showcased both the school and the town she so deeply loved.

“Working alongside Paula on any project was an adventure and supporting her efforts for the Gunn 200 exhibit was truly a delight. Paula’s excitement and enthusiasm were infectious, especially when she uncovered the right quote or supporting piece of information. There were no stressful moments even as we approached the deadline; there was laughter, camaraderie and her reminder of ‘ever onward and upward!’” recalled Krimsky’s friend and colleague Jess Baker, Associate Director of Alumni & Parent Engagement.

In the summer of 2017, the archives were hoisted from the Bourne basement and reassembled in a far more central location on the lower level of Tisch Schoolhouse. Gerrit Vreeland ’61, then-Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Jonathan Estreich P’06, then-Vice Chairman, were credited with leading that effort, and members of the Class of 1960 donated funds to the project in memory of George Krimsky ’60, who passed away on January 20, 2017.

Speaking at the dedication of The Paula and George Krimsky ’60 Archives and Special Collections on October 6, 2017, Head of School Peter Becker recalled that what brought him to The Gunnery in 2012 was, first and foremost, the school’s history. He encountered Krimsky working in the dark conditions of the Bourne basement, where, remarkably, she had “created something out of nothing.”

“It is entirely thanks to Paula that our history is preserved,” Becker said, adding that it quickly became his priority to relocate the archives “to help surface the DNA of the place with Mr. Gunn’s original spirit and vision for the school.”

In sharing the news of her passing with the faculty this week, Becker recalled her friendship and her gifts as a conversationalist and raconteur with a great sense of humor. “We dedicated the change of our school's name to Paula because she did more than anyone in the last 30 years to keep the memory of Frederick Gunn alive, she dedicated the latter part of her career to preserving and protecting the rich archival material of Mr. Gunn and those closest to him, and she was an enthusiastic supporter of the decision to align our name with our founder clearly and boldly. Paula's memory, and that of her late husband, George (himself an alumnus), will be kept alive here in perpetuity through the archives that bear their name as well as the many details of the school's history that we only have thanks to Paula's intrepid research.”

Krimsky retired from the school in June 2018 but continued to come to campus almost every Wednesday to work alongside her volunteers in the archives, and was in the process of writing a book about the school’s history. She also volunteered twice weekly alongside her sister, Susan Jackson, at the Gunn Historical Museum, and was instrumental in the launch of the exhibit, “Washington, Connecticut: An American Story,” which opened in August 2019.

Alumni, faculty and former faculty will remember Krimsky as a fixture at Alumni Weekend events, where she arrived with notepad and pen in hand to gather alumni stories. She loved poetry and rarely missed an opportunity to attend a performance by The Gunnery Drama Society. Nothing captured her attention quite like the students' annual fascination with hiding and finding the 200-pound, Civil War-era cannon ball known as the Stray Shot. Krimsky was often engaged in the chase, helping students to devise the clues that would lead to the Stray Shot’s discovery and recounting the thrill of the hunt for current students and enthusiastic alumni alike. The time she spent with family and friends, including her children and six grandchildren, brought her tremendous joy. 

“When you got together with her, it was a party,” said Karoline Theobald P’09 ’14 of the English Department faculty, a close friend who welcomed Krimsky to her Nature Writers class in the spring as an expert on Gibson as an artist. “She brought the joy and she found the joy in every situation.”

Sarah Albright, who teaches French and Spanish and is Assistant Director of Dramatic Arts, remembered Krimsky for her laugh. “The best part of her laughter was its contagious nature – it was a loud laugh, immediate, and felt and shared around the room.”

She will be remembered for her bright spirit, and her stories, those shared and those that have yet to be told, as her legacy lives on.

Paula Krimsky is survived by her daughter, Alissa and her husband, Jon Fasman; her son, Michael, and his wife, Stefanie; six grandchildren - Leo, Isabella, Alexa, Zephyr, Olivia and Emma; her sister, Susan Jackson, and her husband, Charles; and four nieces and nephews. A private service is planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be directed to:

Steep Rock Association
PO. Box 279
Washington Depot, Connecticut 06794
steeprockassoc.org

Gunn Historical Museum
Friends of the Gunn Museum
P.O. Box 1273
Washington, CT 06793
gunnlibrary.org/gunn-museum/museum-support/

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