Cecilia Mary Machado Calhoun Firger, a heavenly angel who beautifully, proudly, exuberantly, elegantly, compassionately, powerfully and excitedly lived her life, and who was loaned to so many of us for far too short a time to walk, run, ride, dance, sing and help us all grow on earth, returned to heaven on January 4, 2019 after living many extraordinary lives in an all too brief an interlude. She is the eternally beloved, cherished, adored, treasured and prized wife of Robert A. Firger and loving, proud, sweet, powerful, tender, generous, magnificent mother of Caroline Stevens Pencz, Cameron Stevens, Lindsay Firger, Josh Firger, Dan Firger and their treasured wives Laura Moreno Cabanillas and Sonal Bains, and Caroline’s husband Cameron Pencz, whom she also considered her daughters and son. She was the loving, delighted, talented and enthusiastically caring partner of not only her husband and children but also guardian and caretaker of her horses Lucky and Faith and numerous beloved dogs, most treasured among them Acorn, Gabby, Jasmine, Wren and Willow.
She was the sister of Jose Calhoun, Jr. (Jake), whom she delighted in having back in her life after many years; and Nancy Calhoun Brink, whom we all tragically miss, after her all too young loss three years ago; and she was the proud and adoring aunt of her nieces, Avery, Paige and Mackenzie Brink and sister-in-law of Phil Brink, whom she held as another brother. Of all those of us who claimed her love, she was perhaps most adoring herself of her three grand-children, Wesley Collins, Max Firger Moreno and Scarlet Pencz, who brought her supreme joy and for whom she will always be remembered as “Gigi”, Granny Celia, commemorating both Celia’s beloved Aunt Gigi Baldwin and Celia’s own Granny Cecilia Calhoun, for whom she was named.
Divinely gifted with not only great beauty but also physically talented, Celia was a champion skier, tennis and swimming competitor and certainly most proudly an equestrienne and thrilled fox hunter. She loved the excitement of living fast and sadly for the rest of us who were encouraged to keep up, went in and out of our lives far too soon. Her motto, “If you have something to do, you’d best be about it” was exemplified in her many and diverse accomplishments and talents. A naturally gifted artist and creator in so many media, she painted, was a ceramicist and a proud alumna of the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford, after commencing her studies at McGill University in pre-med. Her husband Bob had also attended McGill prior to her and she always said when they finally found each other that she at last had her college sweetheart whom she had been searching for. Celia went on to become the President of the Board of Directors of the Art School and a Regent of the University, following delightedly and proudly in the footsteps of her father Jose Machado Calhoun, who had also held those posts.
Not satisfied to ever rest, Celia went on with her studies to become a landscape designer and master gardener, studying at Villanova University, next to where she lived for many years with her first husband, Philip Stevens; but only after having a major career as creative director at several large advertising agencies. She combined these marketing and creative talents later in her life to co-found and run Cognate Nutritionals with Bob. Celia also continued for many years to design gardens, landscapes and the trees surrounding Old St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Bloomfield, Connecticut, where a celebratory memorial service will be held for her. Some of her friends for whom she designed gardens have remarked that they were forever in bloom in every season and grew more beautiful as they have aged – so perfectly exemplifying Celia. She delighted in the thrill and enrichment of traveling with Bob to many countries later in her too young life, from France, where she could practice her fluent French, Italy, her near-conversational Italian and Spain and Portugal, and to riding on the pampas of Argentina, climbing pyramids in meso-America, delighting in exotic Istanbul and scrambling up mountains in Cappadocia. Everywhere Celia and Bob journeyed they would take pictures to inspire her later designs. She also traveled a number of times alone, including to Cortona, Italy and to Normandy to paint en plein air.
She delighted in showing her extraordinary gardening talents at her home on Gun Mill Farm, where she never ceased being the garden designer of extensive landscapes. She looked forward to but just missed celebrating the 250th anniversary of their house, which she and Bob viewed as being in their stewardship, as Celia held so much and so many in her loving care. Bob called her his “Chatelaine”, as she combined her unceasing desire for beautifying her surroundings with novelty and freshness, constantly re-designing her setting with pride of place and forever filling it with flowers and plants. An ardent environmentalist, she held the designation of LEED AP in permaculture. Among many symbols in nature that she embraced and adopted was the acorn, and its potential for growth, and which she used as the name of her landscape design company; her dog Acorn; and which she designed into her wedding rings for her marriage to Bob. They were together on earth in their passionate romance for eighteen years and will continue above for eternity in love.
Her home was the center of her existence, where her core being, energies and values revolved around family, extending her family definition to include many friends, some held for fifty years and others as new as last year, but all valued equally. She loved entertaining, was a fabulous cook and hostess, and created elegant, beautiful and creatively novel settings and decor for her parties, including exuberantly festive Thanksgivings and Christmases. But most of all she loved as much sitting by the fire with Bob, her family and dogs; and especially showed her wonderful sense of fun, mischievous humor and playfulness in live games and entertainments, loving croquet, swimming parties and charades. She also delighted in having a home in Florida for some years and put the same energies into designing a beautiful life there, at home and in the world.
She loved the saying “She believed that she could and so she did” and she took that heartfelt and determined attitude into all that she did, from her friendships that numbered in hundreds and that she made a concerted effort to keep fresh and current at all times; to her earnest and involved support for so many causes that she powerfully believed in; and ultimately and sadly to her final days when she committed to and succeeded, sadly short of the goal, but still beyond all others’ expectations in fighting illness and infirmity. When told to slow down throughout her life because it’s not a competition, she would reply “Everything is a competition” and in the end she was a champion. However, her sense of competitiveness was not born of prideful ego, but rather holding everyone and everything in life up to the highest standards and expectations that she held for the true values and potential for humanity. She exemplified that herself and would never give up on that goal for everyone she met. Many remarked on her youthful energy and appearance, natural beauty and positive outlook and some even thought her freshness and innocent, optimistic demeanor was born of some naivete; but far from it, she was a bodhisattva of wise, patient, pure hopeful compassion for the human condition and those of us now left behind in it.
She took great care in her exquisite appearance and dress, but was honestly oblivious and dismissive of the beautiful effect she had on others, having no time for self-centered vanity and pride. Her sense of right, honor and excellence was very much of her essence but also of her ancestry of which she was most proud, becoming a “Colonial Dame” later in life. Her father Jose’s family was not only proudly Scottish, (and Celia loved to wear the Colquhoun clan kilt, their motto “Si Je Puis”-If I Can, was written centuries ago to seemingly exemplify Celia); but they also had a long and esteemed history in Cuba. Her mother Sallie Barrow Newton VanItallie came from an historical tradition in the South, and was the source of many of Celia’s artistic talents and certainly her beauty.
Celia was so alive, active, engaged, involved and in love with life, those in her life and those around her, that it would have been a cruel perpetration on her existence to have her continue in any diminished fashion, and so it was a gift to her to not have to do so. It is, however, a cruel tragedy for those of us who love her so intensely, to have her gifts and presence robbed from us so soon. We shall only have to believe that she has not abandoned us at all, but rather is still present in all of the most important and precious ways and will continue to be our angel above, as she was here on this short path. As one of her distant ancestors, Jose Antonio Machado, the famous poet wrote, and Celia totally lived by - “Golpe A Golpe, Verso A Verso, Caminante No Hay Camino, Se Hace Camino Al Andar”, Verse By Verse, Blow By Blow, Wanderer There Is No Path, You Make Your Path By Your Traveling.
A Memorial Fund will be established in Celia’s memory and honor at the University of Hartford Art School---please if you wish make donations to that fund in lieu of flowers.
A Memorial Service will be held at Old St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Bloomfield CT on Saturday, January 19, 2019 at 11:00am.