Connecticut flags have been lowered to half-staff Tuesday in honor of State Rep. Terry Backer (D-Stratford), fondly known as the "Soundkeeper," who passed away at 61 on Monday night.
A state representative since 1993, the Democrat had cancer for several years. Earlier in his career on the water he had become the Soundkeeper, raising awareness and raising money to take on polluters.
"He stood for what he did, cleaning up the water, helping out the community, " said Diane Connolly of Lordship, "and he was fantastic. It's a tremendous loss."
The governor ordered flags at the Capitol to half staff in Backer's memory. The flag at the Lordship firehouse was one of the first in the state to be lowered.
“Terry Backer will always be remembered at the State Capitol as a larger than life crusader who was passionate about Stratford, unwavering in his love of Long Island Sound, and deeply dedicated to his lifelong mission to preserve the waterways for future generations," Malloy said in a statement. "The State of Connecticut will forever remember him as the Keeper of the Sound.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) remembered Backer as "one of a kind" and "a fearless fighter for Long Island Sound, an effervescent raconteur and a warm and deeply generous friend."
"Terry had a big heart – a relentless love for everything that exists and lives on the planet and a tireless devotion to public service and the people of Stratford and Connecticut. I will remember him and his legacy in the beauty of the Sound," Blumenthal said in a written statement.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) said Backer made a difference and credited him for getting "a generation of public servants and advocates and citizens" to "care more about protecting the quality of Connecticut's air and water," especially Long Island Sound.
“I count myself among those who fight a little harder for the health of Connecticut’s waterways because I knew Terry Backer, Connecticut’s one and only Soundkeeper, and didn’t want to disappoint him. His passion for the water, honed by the side of his father as they harvested shellfish for a living for decades, matured as he took on the official role as the state’s chief spokesman for Long Island Sound," Murphy said.
He admitted that in his early years as a state legislator, he steered clear of Backer because "to new, young entrants to the General Assembly, he could come across as a bit intimidating – that fisherman’s beard and the gruff, coarse voice."
"And that reputation served him well, because people in Hartford had little interest in crossing Terry when it came to issues relating to the environment and energy policy – his pet passions. But now, having gotten the chance to get close to him, I feel foolish thinking that he was anything other than a big teddy bear, with an occasionally rough exterior," Murphy said.
Murphy described how "Terry was heartbroken" to "watch the shellfish industry virtually disappear from the Sound in his later years."
"And he knew that it was greater forces, outside the control of the Connecticut state legislature, that were causing the lobsters to head north to colder waters," Murphy said. "He pushed me, and other federal officials, hard to reform our nation’s energy policies to combat climate change, knowing that rising sea temperatures threatened entire species and industries."
A few weeks ago, Murphy saw Backer at a press conference announcing his misson to "eliminate tiny plastic microbeads from personal care products."
And though I’m so sad he’s gone, I’m glad that’s the last time I saw him – standing on the shores of Long Island Sound, urging us all on to preserve his legacy. To his very last breath, the Soundkeeper.”