Jacky Durrell: Political Leader 1928-2009

Jacky Durrell Portrait Jacky Durrell Ribbon Cutting

Jacky Durrell cutting the ribbon to open the Sullican-McKinney Elder Housing Building. 1989

Jacky Durrell Cartoon

This cartoon by Bob Domfried appeared in the Fairfield Citizen when Durrell retired as first selectman in 1993.

Jacky Durrell was the first woman to serve as Fairfield’s First Selectman.

Moving to town in 1959 with her husband, she got involved with the PTA while raising her five children. Her volunteer work led her into town politics: after running unsuccessfully for town clerk, she was elected to the Board of Education in 1973, and became the first female chair of the Board two years later. She served in the state legislature, working on issues of affordable housing and services for handicapped children. She focused on town government and in 1981 was elected to Fairfield’s Board of Selectmen, nearly defeating the legendary John Sullivan.

As First Selectman for ten years, Durrell focused on making Fairfield a more accessible and caring community. She helped to create Operation Hope’s homeless shelters in 1988, the first in any suburban town in the region; and to open six different group homes for the mentally handicapped. Concerned with the growing elderly population, she helped establish senior housing as well as the Senior Center and eldercare center. Durrell also spearheaded the construction of several affordable housing units, built with “sweat equity” by their owners. She did not shy away from controversy on these matters or on others that arose during her tenure, such as the consolidation of Fairfield’s high schools or the crisis in the town budget. She served as a role model to other women in town government and politics, and was always present at community events, from funerals to scouting ceremonies.

After retiring from town government, Durrell continued to be involved in public issues, serving as president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, as a member of the state Ethics Commission, and on numerous non-profit boards in the region, including the Fairfield Museum. Today, she is remembered through the naming of the Penfield Pavilion, the meeting hall here at the Fairfield Museum, and through a college scholarship offered through the town Recreation Department.