‘The Ridgefield Walker’ says thank you, and goodbye
Editor's note: Michael Nardone died on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23, 2017) with his family by his side. The story below ran in the Nov. 22 edition of The Ridgefield Press. The Ridgefield community has planned a "Walk for Mike" that will take start in front of the RVNA building on Governor Street Sunday, Dec. 3, at 9 a.m. For more information about the walk, pick up this week's Ridgefield Press — on newsstands Thursday.
Michael Nardone Jr. remembers when his dad, Michael Nardone, first moved to Ridgefield in the spring of 1997.
A widower from Weston who had run his own consulting company since 1973, the senior Nardone instantly grew enchanted with his new community and began walking the town’s beautiful, idyllic streets, where he’d meet its generous residents — folks he greeted with a warm smile and welcome into his life as if they were part of his family.
“He walked every single day he lived in that town — 12 months, 365 days a year, for four to five hours a day. It didn’t matter if it was raining or if it was snowing,” Michael Nardone Jr. recalled last week about the man many here in town know as “the Ridgefield Walker.”
“He started on those big walks from almost day one, and they really changed him,” his son added. “Before he came to town, my father lived in a very white world. But in Ridgefield, he became friends with everyone, even the dishwashers and cooks who worked in town. He got to know their schedules and when they went on break, and he would speak to them in the back of the restaurants they worked at.
“He never did that stuff before he moved to town, so he clearly evolved as a person and found a lot of happiness through those interactions.”
Michael Nardone’s “walking journey” — the one that spanned two decades and more than tens of thousands of miles in Ridgefield — ended in this past June when was diagnosed with stage three multiple myeloma, a form of cancer in which abnormal plasma cells build up in the bone marrow and form tumors in many bones of the body.
“He fell in the first week of June and that snowballed into a series of doctor’s visits and trips to the hospitals,” his son told The Press last week.
“He’s recently become very ill and has maybe a few weeks left to live, but wanted to thank everyone who has written him over the last several months.”
‘Bundles of cards’
It didn’t take long for residents to notice Nardone’s warm presence missing on Main Street this summer.
They began writing cards to the 87-year-old man whom they had come to know over the years, wishing him well and thanking him for all the support and friendliness he displayed with such ease.
“We would visit his home, to pick up his mail, and there they were — a few at first, then stacks, then bundles of cards, personally delivered. The cards just kept coming,” Nardone Jr. wrote in a thank-you letter to the community last week. “If people didn’t know where my father lived, they dropped a card at St. Mary’s Parish. If they knew someone who knew my father, they handed the cards to them.”
Nardone’s son said he and his three siblings — Greg, Keith and Beth — have “been humbled by this genuine act of community caring and kindness.”
“It’s helped us better understand that you can truly impact someone’s life just by being ‘present’ and actively listening, as you go about your day,” he said. “Imagine if my father walked with headphones, listening to music. He might have missed these beautiful connections. But he didn’t, he never would have.
“He’s lived his whole life being absolutely present and engaged with his family — through thick and thin — so, of course, he’d do the same for the Ridgefield community that he so loves and that has loved him back.”
“I want to personally thank you, on behalf of my father. Please know that he has read every card and note, and he is so thankful for each and every sentiment of support and encouragement. If he was able, he would have responded to all of you. Please accept this note as his personal thank you.”
Nardone Jr. said his dad wanted to remind everyone in Ridgefield to stay connected to the community, keep moving forward, and remain positive in attitude, “regardless of what life throws at you.”
It’s a legacy that’s befitting of “a very good man who wanted to take care of his family and others.”
“He’s a bit of a throwback,” Nardone Jr. said of his father. “He’s very humble, very private.”
The senior Nardone worked as a management consultant for Honeywell and Eastern Airlines, before it became Continental Airlines, in the 1960s and early 1970s before starting his own firm, ME Nardone Associates, in 1973.
“My father was a consultant when nobody else was doing it,” Nardone Jr. said. “It was a high risk to start his own business at that time with four kids to feed.”
The business would run successfully until around 1996, when Nardone began to slowly close down its operations.
“He would say, ‘I’m not retiring, I’m transitioning.’”
And that’s exactly what he did.
He found a new development, Cannonfield, on Ridgefield’s Main Street, and moved in without hesitation.
“My mother had passed away and he was spending a lot of time by himself in Weston,” his son recalled. “When he stumbled across this development in Ridgefield, he bought in right away and that’s when he started meeting people.”
They keep coming
The letters of support keep trickling in from the Ridgefield community.
Nardone Jr. said he picked up several more from his dad’s place in Cannonfield on Nov. 14.
“It has really staggered me,” he told The Press two days later.
“I had some idea it was going on but not to this degree,” he added. “He inspired people from all over — we’ve been getting cards from people in Nantucket and Woodstock, Vt. — by just being nice.”
But it was in Ridgefield where Nardone Sr. also received inspiration.
“In Ridgefield, he became a different person,” his son said. “There’s something about the townspeople and the streets that brought something out in him that wasn’t there before. It was incredible to watch. …
“He just wants to thank the town because he’s going to pass really soon,” Nardone Jr. said.
“It’s humbling to see how kind a community can be,” he added. “You forget that sometimes, but there’s no doubt about it — this is a very special place and it changed my dad forever.”