Person of the Week
Thayer Talbott: It’s All About Community
As vice president for programs and operations at the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Thayer Talbott has seen the community step up to help neighbors in need during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Thayer Talbott )
Thayer Talbott gets to do something special at work: Give away money. Now, wait a minute; that’s not to just anyone. Thayer is vice president for programs and operations at the Community Foundation of Middlesex County (CFMC), which gives grants to enhance life in Middlesex County focusing on a wide range of local needs from women’s empowerment, veterans, and at-risk boys to mental health.
The pandemic, Thayer says, is a reminder of just how important local community is and how much we rely on it. She adds that one of the things that has impressed her the most in these unusual times is the number of people who have called the community foundation volunteering their services in any way they could help.
“They want to know if they could help seniors; [they] went through boxes of fabric making masks; they asked about food insecurity and what they could do; so many people wanted to do something,” she says.
The challenge for CFMC at the present time is being flexible enough to respond to the added needs that have arisen as a result of COVID-19. Thayer works with CFMC President Cynthia Clegg (herself a 2013 Person of the Week) to find news solutions.
“This is the time that Cynthia says we have to think out of the box,” Thayer says. “We have to pivot; it’s a word that very popular now.”
According to Thayer, despite the problems in the current economic climate, donors are still contributing to CFMC.
“We are firm believers it is not the size of the gift,” she says. “We appreciate every one and are so thankful for all of them.”
Donors can give directly to CFMC or to one of the funds that it administers. Potential donors who want more guidance on giving are always welcome to talk with the foundation.
CFMC conceives of its grants as a stimulus, a way to leverage other kinds of giving. With 15 towns to cover in Middlesex County, the organization is not in a position to be a project’s sole funder. Its grants can be used for operating expenses, an area for which some foundation’s grants cannot be employed.
“If we don’t support those kinds of expenses, the organizations will not be able to bring us programs,” Thayer points out.
There are community foundations, Thayer says, serving different parts of Connecticut and in a wider picture, community foundations throughout the United States. Each one is an independent entity, but many share ideas.
“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” she says.
CFMC is an accredited foundation, meeting national standards.
Thayer planned, as an undergraduate at St. Lawrence University, to major in English and with a career as a college professor. That continued as her plan when she started her graduate degree in English literature at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
“Like a lot of people who go to Miami for graduate work, I stayed,” she says.
But not as a professor. She realized when she earned her degree that she liked teaching, but not the constant pressure to publish that went with a professor’s life. She took a job as office manager for the Miami Police Department.
She did communications for the police department and ultimately ran her own communications firm in Ohio for some five years before moving to Old Saybrook where her widowed father was living. As a child, she had lived all over the United States from Texas and California to Maryland where her father, now retired, pursued careers from sheep ranching to finance before becoming an Episcopal priest.
“I think all his experiences made him a great priest,” she says.
Thayer, who now lives in Ivoryton, has worked at CFMC for 11 years. She had to stop and calculate when asked.
“I don’t keep track of time because I really love being part of the community foundation. It’s really remarkable that I don’t think of it,” she says.
She is a reader of crime fiction, particularly fond of the novels of iconic writers like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. As a child she loved stories of mythology, which she thinks as an adult has translated into a fondness for science fiction.
“I was into The Handmaid’s Tale long before its current popularity,” she says of Margaret Atwood’s novel of a dystopian world of the future.
She also describes herself as addicted to movies, particularly superhero sagas, singling out Wonder Woman and The Avengers. Often, she combines movie watching with exercise on her treadmill.
Thayer admits she regularly gets questions on her far-from-common first name. To begin with, it is not her first name. Her given name is Margaret, but as Margaret Talbotts abounded in her family, her parents decided to call her by her middle name.
She says a listing of name origins gives Thayer as a boy’s name that means “of the army.” She did once know of a young boy name Thayer and in recent years, she has met a woman whom she sees occasionally also named Thayer. Those meetings give Thayer the opportunity to do what someone named Susie or John can do to same-named friends far more frequently: “I see her and I can say, ‘Hi Thayer.’”
For more information about the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, visit middlesexcountycf.org.