Friends and family remember Stephenson Memorial Library Director David Bridgewater

David Bridgewater demonstrates the library’s entry in the Sunset Lake cardboard regatta in summer 2023.

David Bridgewater demonstrates the library’s entry in the Sunset Lake cardboard regatta in summer 2023. PHOTO COURTESY STEPHENSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY

Miniature chairs created by David Bridgewater displayed at Stephenson Memorial Library in 2019. 

Miniature chairs created by David Bridgewater displayed at Stephenson Memorial Library in 2019.  PHOTO COURTESY STEPHENSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY

By JESSECA TIMMONS

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-29-2024 8:35 AM

David Bridgewater, who had been the director of Stephenson Memorial Library in Greenfield since 2020, is being remembered for his boundless energy, his determination to take on and solve problems, his kind nature and his unflagging good humor, along with being a teacher, an avid reader, a gardener, a master woodworker, a cyclist and a sailor.

Bridgewater died Feb. 11 following a short period of declining health, just two days after his 80th birthday. He was predeceased by his wife, Hilda, who died in 2019. Bridgewater is survived by his children, Alistair Bridgewater and Claire Bridgewater, both of Greenfield, and his brother, Kenneth Bridgewater of Amherst.

“My father was someone who had figured out to love life. He was joyful. He was also the most pragmatic person – he always said if worrying won’t help anything, don’t do it,” said Claire Bridgewater. “Father was the absolute king of pulling silly faces. He adored children; he loved making them laugh. He adored teaching. He had so many passions and things he loved to do. ”

Bridgewater grew up in Coventry, a small city in England’s West Midlands. In 1942, Bridgewater’s expectant mother was evacuated to more-rural Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was born. After the war, the family returned to Coventry. Bridgewater received a degree in education from Royal Holloway College of the University of London and had a long teaching career, including at Summerhill School, an “alternative democratic school” where he rose to become deputy head of school.

David met his wife Hilda at a nature center, where he was taking a botany class and she was instructing. The couple became engaged after just eight days. The Bridgewaters moved to the United States in 1979 and settled in Francestown, where they made many close friends. The family moved to Massachusetts so Claire and Alistair could attend the Sudbury Valley School and returned the Monadnock region in 2004. The Bridgewater home on Forest Road was renowned for Hilda’s expansive flower, vegetable and herb gardens, which took up every inch of the lawn surrounding the home.

Bridgewater was known for his highly skilled woodworking, finish carpentry and antique furniture restoration. In recent years, he made miniature-scale Colonial chairs, many which were displayed at the library in 2019. He also built many of the shelves and display cases in Stephenson Library as well as the white “Greenfield, N.H.” signs, complete with flower boxes, on the town lines.

“Above all, David was a gentleman,” said Conrad Dumas, who along with his wife Ellen worked with the Bridgewaters to found Greenfield Community Organic Gardens. “He was a very sweet man, always quick to smile. He should be remembered as a master craftsman. The miniature chairs are really special. Really, they should be in museums.”

Claire Bridgewater said her father was also an inventor and an engineer.

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“He didn’t only make the little chairs; he actually made all the tools he needed to make those chairs. He made miniature lathes with hand drills; he made the jigs,” she said. “He never charged people for the cost of making all those tools or the time that took. He said it was his hobby, and he just loved the work.”

Ellen Dumas recalled that when the town presented longtime Moderator Peter Hopkins with the town’s gavel upon Hopkins’ retirement, Bridgewater created a new gavel, as well as a lectern, out of wood taken from a downed maple tree on the town common.

“David and Hilda were very community-minded and really did a lot for the town. They were instrumental in founding the Community Organic Gardens, which supported the Greenfield GIVers, and they were very involved in the GIVers and in helping people in town,” Ellen Dumas recalled. “David was just a very generous man.”

Ken Bridgewater noted that David also completed the Colonial period restoration woodwork at Boston’s Union Oyster House, paneling an upstairs function room in ebony and walnut.

“One time, someone in Amherst lost a cherry tree and asked David to make something out of it, and he made a spiral staircase,” Ken Bridgewater said. “His work was really quite extraordinary.”

Paul Lawrence of Francestown, whose family has been close to the Bridgewaters for 42 years, recalled when Bridgewater was considering whether to take the position of library director.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I could not think if anyone more qualified. I said, ‘David, you’re a natural teacher, you’re an intellectual, you’re a problem-solver. You’re probably the most avid reader in town. You’ve volunteered there for years. You are wonderful with people,’ ” Lawrence said. “David was a terrific human being and a unique human being and was also extremely bright. If you were trying to solve a problem, he would just jump in and help you in any way that he could.”

Bridgewater’s period of declining health was brief. Last summer, he dedicated hours to fixing the fence around the Community Gardens, and participated in the Greenfield Recreation Department’s Cardboard Regatta, gleefully creating a cardboard boat and bringing it to Sunset Lake for young patrons to paddle on the lake.

“Really, he was absolutely the most lovely and wonderful dad,” Claire Bridgewater said. “We were very lucky.”