Patricia Wilbur, who died at age 76 in the early evening hours of May 22, was everybody's "Dearest Friend" for some fairly unique reasons.
The words spoken in her house were always private. Nothing was ever repeated. Gossip never happened. Kindness prevailed. Best known as "Pat," she was the essence of enduring friendship, kindness, and concern - a "Dearest Friend."
Although she was involved in such groups as the Noank Historical Society and the Noank Baptist Church, many say they will mostly remember Pat's living style: non-judgmental, quietly assuring, a gentle listener, confidential; always.
Pat exemplified the women of early Noank, a fishing village in bygone days.
Those women needed to be strong and nurturing as they raised families while their men were at sea. Her late husband and father of their three sons and a daughter, was John (Jack) Wilbur, who died in 1990.
He was a commercial ship's captain, licensed to sail any vessel of any size on any ocean, and was often at sea. Pat was at home alone with responsibilities of a single mother. She also welcomed other youngsters as their moms followed her cheer: "Go do your thing. The kids will be fine."
On a professional level, she was dedicated to detail at the Mystic Seaport Marine Museum, where she worked for more than 15 years as a researcher, dealing with ships' plans. The job officially ended in 1990, but she continued as a volunteer even as she battled the breath-challenging lung cancer that finally took her life.
Similarly, she continued as a proofreader for the historical society's newsletter, the Noank Ledger, expressing concern just days before her death about a spelling error she had spotted a week before.
The visitor assured her the corrections had been made, mentally noting the value Pat had brought to many issues and remembering another professional job she held earlier in her life at a former Waterford publishing company branch of the Bureau of Business Practice.
Realizing she might be speaking to her for the last time, the visitor squeezed the frail hand and said, "You're my Dearest Friend." Pat gave a returning squeeze.
Certainly, there are others who called her "Dearest Friend."
Pat was not a Noank native. She met Jack when she came to the University of Connecticut's Marine Research Lab to work toward a master's degree in marine biology. She had been graduated from Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., with a Bachelor of Science degree. The focus changed when she and Jack met and married in 1959, becoming another of the many Wilbur families that pepper Noank history.
The houses where she lived, all linked to the Wilbur family lineage, were always open. In the earlier years, she lived on Pearl Street. Later, it was on Sylvan Street. Finally, Pat eventually moved to the smallest of the three places, also on Sylvan Street.
All those houses have Wilbur family connections that reflect Noank history - a heritage that Pat embraced with enthusiasm. Even a native would have found it difficult to match wits with her about people and places as the years went by. Mostly, it was the kitchen in all those places where many cups of coffee and tea were brewed and poured. There were words to make one laugh, cry, heal, or simply keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Her voice was usually quiet. But it had a different purpose in the choir at Noank Baptist Church when her clear and pleasing alto range enhanced weddings and Sunday services. Those times were public.
But in all the places she called home, Pat's place was a private refuge. She was everybody's "Dearest Friend."
Barbara Reed Collins lives in Groton and was formerly a staff writer for The Day.