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Snapshot: Deborra Zukowski



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Occupation: I am now retired after 30 years as an information systems engineer.

Family: My husband, Charles, and I have been married since 1983. He is a professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. We have two adult daughters, Claire and Sadie, both of whom graduated from Newtown High School. They are currently a physicist and software engineer.

How long have you lived in Newtown? We moved to Newtown in 2002.

What do you like to do in your free time? I love just being a part of the natural world around me. I take walks, try to jog, hike, etc. As part of an “empty nest project,” my husband and I visited the highest points of 40 states — wonderful vistas, history, and happenstances.

What organizations are you part of in Newtown? I am currently a member of the Newtown Board of Education (thanks to all who voted in November) as well as a member of the Newtown Cultural Arts Commission, where I focus on the Art of Science tent at the Newtown Arts Festival. I belong to a wonderful, non-audition choir called the Newtown Choral Society. Last year, I had the pleasure of singing Mabel’s “Poor Wandering One” from The Pirates of Penzance. Quite the joy!

Do you have a favorite book? I like books that make complex ideas understandable in a way that does not diminish their magic. One that comes to mind is Sophie’s World about the history of philosophy.

What is your favorite travel destination? I’m a wanderer who loves experiencing the unanticipated — from finding keys that bounced off the top of a car halfway down a mountain road thanks to a translucent blue butterfly, to explaining to a certain daughter that the “elderly woman” waving in the back of the car that had almost nudged her in a driveway was, in fact, the Queen of England.

What is the best part about Newtown? I love how the people of Newtown participate in our community. There are so many people who volunteer on our town boards and commissions, in our places of worship for those in need, as part of arts and recreation/sports activities, etc. We have a vibrant community because many people share their hearts and their hands.

How can Newtown improve? Recently, I get the sense that some of the nastiness we see in the media is beginning to seep into our community. We need to remember that we are a community. Yes, we have diverse perspectives but that can make us — and our community — stronger.

Who has been the greatest influence in your life? This is going to be sappy, but by far my greatest influencer is my husband, Charles. We met in college — two nerds from upstate New York, out of place in Boston. Together, we made Boston a home. Since then we’ve been at each others’ side.

If you could spend the day with one person, who would you choose and why? [The late American humorist] Erma Bombeck. She had such a wonderful perspective about life. Also, there was an opportunity I failed to take while at school that I wish I could change. Professor Mildred Dresselhaus always had an open door for young students. She was one who quietly changed the world for many young women in science and technology. I wish I had understood that at the time and had walked through her open door.

Who is your favorite musical artist? Antonio Vivaldi. I first heard his Four Seasons while taking a course about understanding music from a cognitive science point of view. Not only is his music just absolutely wonderful and groundbreaking but many, if not most, of his compositions were written for the girls and women in an orphanage for unwanted children where he served as a music director.

What is the greatest piece of advice you have ever been given? “Never give up hope; There is a world out there, somewhere, that will accept and respect you for who you are.” My mother said this to me when I was in middle school. I was an outcast then, but she knew that there were people out there who would value the person I would become.

What is something you cannot live without? Laughter, preferably with others who also like to laugh.

What is your proudest accomplishment? I helped to instill in my children a love of music that they then made their own. When my girls were young, I would put them to bed and then sing and play the piano. Little did I know at the time, they would depart their snug beds and crouch in the hallway to listen and watch. As they grew, they took over my piano and made their own music.

Deborra Zukowski is this week's Snapshot profile.
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