A Newtown Native Writes Of His Childhood Hometown, And A Life Of Adventure
Newtown native David Egee needed to have a project after retiring several years ago. He rented a small 10-foot by 9-foot office in London, where he has lived since 1979, “with bare walls and a skylight.” In it was “an empty desk with a spiral notebook, pencils, a dictionary and a thesaurus,” Mr Egee said. There was also his “genuine interest in writing” his memoirs.
In that plain office, over several winters, he wrote Wake Up Running. Released in February, the book portrays his life of travel, family, business ventures, and memories of his time growing up in Newtown. Mr Egee’s wife Dale (Richardson) Egee is also a Newtown native, and included in his book is a picture of them both in grade school in Newtown in 1943.
During his career Mr Egee was the director of an American University of Beirut Teaching Hospital, the advisor to the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia and Libya, and, after moving to London, he worked with the Hospital Corporatoin of America, and took part in establishing several provincial hospitals and nursing homes. He then started DaleCare, which was his own nursing home company, creating 50 homes throughout England and Scotland, before retiring.
Mr Egee wrote the book, he said recently, because he likes a challenge.
“I wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “My career was a challenge every day and retirement was an empty hole that I had to fill with something. My daughter urged me, people said I had an interesting life, and I knew I was lucky — much of it was being in the right place at the right time.”
He views his life as an adventure, he said. He also feels that “everyone has a story.”
Is he pleased with his work?
“Yes, I am. I was very very lucky,” he said. “I did most of everything I wanted, except the truck driving. I had a happy marriage, children, everything, I have everything. I can go to my grave saying, ‘Wasn’t I lucky?’ And lucky I had the means.” He also credits his father — Newtown’s longtime town doctor, the late John Benton Egee, MD, saying, “I was lucky my father had the means.”
Reflecting on the course of his life, he said, “I remember my father asking me, ‘What do you imagine you would like to do when you grow up?’ I told him I don’t know, but it’s not [in Newtown]. What was on the horizon was more interesting. I went from Alaska to Lebanon to Rome. Everything turned out better than I thought. My father said he had a life he never imagined he would, and it’s the same way I feel; my life has been good.”
Several weeks ago, Mr Egee wrote down and sent to The Bee some brief thoughts about his book, his childhood, and memories of the town where he grew up.
About writing, he had said, “The easiest way to begin writing your memoirs is to start from the beginning, form your first memory. Everyone likes to hear a first memory.”
He then mentioned again that his friends described him as a doer.
“Do-ers need projects,” he wrote. “Outside of my career my life was made up of projects: motorcycle touring, metal welding, photography, obtaining a pilot’s license, patchwork quilting, horseback riding (including show jumping and flat racing), china and pottery repair, and showing off by learning to ride a unicycle. My pursuits were never intellectual or scholarly.
“A friend said, ‘David, you don’t have to have a mind of a thinker to write your memoirs.” But the friend recognized him as a doer, which was enough to make him successful and “smart enough to overcome the obstacles before you.”
His book is a recollection of many places and people from a Newtown past that many residents may still remember.
Longtime friend and Glover Avenue resident Joan Crick said, “When I found out [Mr Egee] wrote a book, I got it.” It offered “a little bit of childhood, a little of his growing up years and how he ended up with a wonderful career, living in Europe and the Middle East.
“How many people from Newtown do things like that? He is to be commended,” she added.
Reading his book “was like living childhood all over again,” said Mrs Crick. “I enjoyed it. I thought it was a wonderful book. He has done so much in his life — he is brave, and his wife too.”
Wake Up Running
In the book’s opening, dedicated “To Our Children Cece, Tony, Adam, and Eliza,” Mr Egee wrote, “This book features many different people and places that shaped my life.” This brief first sentence leads into paragraph about a father who realized that “my professional commitments kept me out of my children’s lives for long periods of time.”
His next observations hint at the book’s title, which is based on an Arab proverb: “When the lion wakes up in the morning, he has to run to catch the gazelle. When the gazelle gets up in the morning, he has to run to save his life. When the gazelle or the lion gets up in the morning, he must wake up running.”
Finishing the brief words to his children, Mr Egee’s message ends: “I was unable to provide the necessary stability and support that might have helped them optimize their talents. While my wife and I concentrated on achieving our own goals, [his children’s] lives were a case of simple survival.”
In a recent interview, Mr Egee considered whether his children had to wake up running, saying, “yes, they certainly did; good point. It’s a great proverb and it applies to anybody who has ambition, and to survive in many cases.”
Mentioned in his book are others who he believes also “woke up running,” his father, and his mother, Mrs Gladys Egee. The theme is mentioned of others throughout his book.
Newtown resident and Egee family friend Bart Smith feels the chapters about Newtown “could be of interest to people” who live in town, Mr Smith said. In his opinion, the author succeeded in completing his memoir, “for the experience. He didn’t do it for money.”
The job was especially challenging because Mr Egee is dyslexic. He said, “And, I don’t spell well. It was a challenge, which is why I did it … I survived.” He said, “My personality and ambition helped me immensely, and my father’s willingness to do what it took to get me educated.”
Chapters in his book make clear the efforts and struggles spanning Mr Egee’s education.
A Glimpse Inside The Book
Mr Egee recently commented on several details in the book. On page 17 he wrote, “I remember telling my wife that if there is a life after death, I wanted to be a women’s fashion designer, an airplane pilot, or a truck driver.” Already admitting that he has done “everything, except the truck driving,” Mr Egee said he learned ot fly at 50. “It was a dream I always had,” he said. And women’s fashion? “It seemed fun,” he said.
On another page he mentioned “Joan, the pretty girl at the village coffee shop.” Did he mean Mrs Crick? He did, he said. “I fell in love from afar, I thought she was great.”
Mr Egee wrote about his younger years spent working for Al Boyson, and how, after growing up and leaving town, he would return to see his former mentor. He recalls when “Al seemed old for the first time. He had fallen off his tractor while plowing the office driveway of the local newspaper.” The incident was in 1968 at the Newtown Bee office. Mr Egee estimates that Mr Boyson was “probably 75,” and had been plowing that drive since he was 17, as noted in the book.
Mr Egee said, “Al was plowing at The Bee — that’s what farmers did, they plowed with their tractors.”
Mrs Crick also remembers that David had “peddled milk for a farm on Route 302, and used to deliver milk in the bottles.” She said that “a lot of people worked for Al Boyson” of Boyson’s Farm.
“It was obvious that [Mr Boyson] meant a lot to David.”
Mr Egee wrote about taking a bus out of town to see a tutor living in Derby. He wrote that Newtown, until then, had been his world.
“I thought I was living life to the fullest … but then my life exploded — I went places, I saw things, I had experiences I had never imagined.”
He wrote: “At age 12, I set out on an adventure that would last another 55 years.”
Six years before his book’s publication, in 2008, Mr Egee returned Newtown for a visit.
The Newtown Bee took note of his visit that year, reporting “David was born in 1936, one of five children to Dr Benton and Mrs Gladys Egee, and lived the first part of his life in [Newtown]. David and his wife, Dale, recently spent a few weeks in the United States visiting with three of their four children. ‘He is writing his autobiography, and part of that, of course, is remembering his life in Newtown,’ Bart Smith had said at the time.”
David Egee moved to Newtown with his family when he was 7 years old in 1942. The family — which also included children Paul, John, Leslie and Elaine in addition to David — lived in a house at 24 Church Hill Road.
Mr Egee is spending some time back in Connecticut this summer. With siblings still living in the area, he has rented a house near Newtown, and will be driving a Ford Model A, which Mr Smith was able to find for him.
“Absolutely looking forward to seeing him” is Mr Egee’s sister Elaine Pratt, who lives in Bridgewater.
One of the earlier portions of his book describes his relationship with famly members including Ms Pratt, who is 18 months older.
Had she been portrayed fairly? “Yes, from his point of view,” she said. Describing his writing, she said, “Everything is up front, nothing is lingering underneath.” For her, reading his book “was engaging, that way of writing, straight on.”
He wrote his memoir “primarily for family and friends,” Ms Pratt said, “but getting it published was important to him, but that’s him, he is determined and was determined on finishing projects.”
She found it amazing that “the people who read this who know nothing about David or anythiing else are finding it a good read,” she said.
Some details of Mr Egee’s childhood surprised her, even though they were close, she said.
“I had no idea that he was so dyslexic. That really shocked me,” Ms Pratt said. Mr Egee talks about the condition early in his writing, where he also mentions his affliction with osteomyelitis, an infection in a bone which had been life threatening to him as a child. Despite struggling to read and his health issues, her brother went on through his schooling and into hospital administration.
“It’s a great story,” she said.
Like Mr Egee, Ms Pratt also took notice of her brother’s need to be doing something new, and offered on of her favotrite stories, she said.
“Once, he decided he wanted to do horseback riding,” she said. He had ridden an uncle’s horse as a child, but as an adult about 12 years ago he had worked with a woman in London who had horses.
“She suggested he enter a horse race,” Ms Pratt said. She and her father had been able to see the race Mr Egee had entered. “There was an an announcer, so he is announcing the riders, and there is David on this huge horse.” She decribes her brother’s pink and grey satin hat and costume. The horses and rider left the paddock “and there is a pause, as the announcer says David Egee from the United States…”
She and her father watched as Mr Egee finished in second place that day. “He said it was the most scary and dangerous thing he’d done. They were trying to knock him off his horse. He said he would never do again but it was a great experience.”
She said her brother had learned to fly a plane, make quilts, took a pottery class, “and then he wanted to write a book.” Also aware of the Model A that is waiting in Mr Smith’s garage for Mr Egee to drive it this summer, she said, “The latest thing is to own a car which was the first car he ever drove.”
Looking forward to his visit, Ms Pratt said, “I was thinking that one of the things he might do this summer is go to some of these antique car shows.” Her brother could “put Dale in the car with a gorgeous hat and duster, and me in the back.” She said, “Dale and I can go out to lunch while [Mr Egee] talks to the car people … it will be fun, it always is with him.”
Copies of Wake Up Running are available for purchase at Amazon.com.