If anyone ever earned a victory lap around the Morristown Green, it’s Glenn Coutts.
Coutts, who died in his sleep on his 94th birthday last weekend, will get that lap on Saturday, looping the historic square that he helped preserve for more than three decades as president of the Trustees of the Green.
His casket will be transported from the Morristown United Methodist Church — he was past president of that board, too — by an antique pumper truck of the Morristown Fire Bureau.
As a volunteer fireman in 1972, Coutts battled the blaze that ravaged the church.
The funeral procession will take Coutts to Evergreen Cemetery. He volunteered as a trustee there as well.
“Morristown has lost a beloved icon,” Alice Cutler, president of the Trustees of the Green, said this week. “He was a cherished friend and mentor to me and to so many, and he will never be forgotten.”
The list of Coutts’ contributions to the civic life of Greater Morristown–and the lives he touched while doing so–is long.
A Rotary visit to Lucerne, Switzerland, inspired Coutts to create Morristown Beautiful Inc., a nonprofit that places flower barrels around town. He was an early member of the Morristown Partnership, a pro-business organization.
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Coutts embarked with church members on a friendship tour of Ukraine and Russia.
“Glenn became known as ‘Mr. Morristown’ even there, as he could answer every question the press threw at our group about where we came from!” said congregation member Leslie Raff.
Coutts also left his mark on the local sports scene: At Morristown High School in 1945, his tie-breaking kick against Madison clinched a Morris County football championship, his obituary attests. (“He always joked that the ball is still going,” said his son, Glenn Jr.)
He organized and coached in youth hockey and baseball leagues, and was a member of the Mendham Golf & Tennis Club and the Essex Hunt Club. He played hockey into his 70s.
Morristown Rotarian and former hockey teammate Bill Weiss treasured their Friday night drives to an outdoor rink in Roselle. Weiss likened it to Tuesdays with Morrie, with the much older Coutts as a sort of Methodist mensch.
One night, Weiss lamented how the Rotary had overspent on giveaway toys for a festival. Coutts calmly replied: “Whenever you give away something, you never lose anything.”
And … Coutts ran a family insurance business while raising, with his wife Ellie, three adoring children who say he never skipped their school events.
This weekend, Coutts will be eulogized as someone who sealed deals with a handshake and uttered no profanities stronger than “Jinkies!”
Mourners may hear about his weakness for puns, or his sharp elbows on the ice. His Navy service aboard the USS Midway in the Korean War surely will be acknowledged.
Yet it’s his connection to the Green–where statues of Washington, Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette celebrate Morristown’s Revolutionary past–that may be Coutts’ legacy.
‘A LOVE AFFAIR’
Coutts worked tirelessly to ensure the Green endures as the “idyllic yet vibrant center of Morristown,” said Ron Ayres, who maintains the Patriot’s Farewell fountain there.
“Walking through the Green today, enjoying its solitude and beauty with the hubbub of the town quietly in the background, is a testament to his efforts,” Ayres said.
Coutts became a trustee of the Green in 1977 and served as unpaid president of the private nonprofit for 33 years, spanning two renovation campaigns that reclaimed a neglected and sketchy space.
“There is no question that we have a love affair with the Green, whether we go there to get a hot dog or feed the squirrels or simply sit on a bench here,” Coutts told MorristownGreen.com in 2016.
When landscape architect Anna Cheng Young ran low on rare puddingstone for a 56-foot bench during the renovations, Coutts asked the public for help.
“More than 45 people called with offers of stone, from small pieces to large slabs,” he related afterwards. “We heard from people throughout the county – from about half of the county’s 39 towns.”
Coutts drove to pick up the stone himself.
He had final say on design decisions, while fellow Morristown legends Steve Wiley and Cliff Starrett oversaw fundraising and historical details, respectively. Wiley died in 2015. Starrett passed a year later.
“The term gentleman sometimes is overused. He really was a gentle person…very humble, and public-minded,” Young said of Coutts. “I feel like I lost a good friend.”
They butted heads occasionally. Young wanted more walking paths. Coutts liked lawns. Yet both agreed that careful stewardship is crucial.
These 2.62 acres have withstood hangings, protests, festivals and Santa visits over the last three centuries. Now, the place is more inviting than ever.
But through overuse, the public could love the Green to death, Young and Coutts realized.
‘THE LAST OF THE HANDSHAKE GENERATION’
Glenn K. Coutts Sr. was born in Meriden, CT, and raised in Morristown, where the Muchmores, the family of his mother Beatrice, had roots.
Coutts graduated from Morristown High in 1947, studied for a year at Valley Forge Military Academy, and earned a degree at the University of Vermont (’51). Following his Naval service, Coutts and his wife lived in Morris Plains.
Coutts took the helm of Robert Lloyd Coutts & Sons — established by his father in 1930 — around 1965, and built a home in Mendham a couple of years later. He retired in 2016. Dementia clouded his final years.
Coutts’ youngest daughter, Nancy, is an artist and an EMT. Most of her fellow EMTs are half her age, she said, and she strives to impart to them the most important thing she learned from her father:
“If somebody is having a bad day, it’s your job to turn that around and make it a better day,” Nancy said.
Coutts lived this philosophy, said his son, Glenn Coutts Jr., who now runs the insurance agency with his sister, Linda Coutts Snyder, also a trustee of the Green.
“If he had a bad day, you would never know it,” Glenn Jr. said of his dad. “Some guys come home from work and always tell you the bad stuff… he would always tell you about the positive thing that happened.
“The guy didn’t drink, he never smoked, he didn’t drink coffee. He never raised his voice. The worst thing he ever said was ‘dang it,‘” the son added.
If Coutts had a devilish side, he saved it for the rink. A passionate player, coach and fan–his family sent him to a New York Rangers “dream camp” when he was in his 70s–Coutts loved cherry-picking goals, and stirring mischief with senior league opponents.
“He would hook you from behind when the referees weren’t looking,” his son recounted. “Not to be evil, but just because it’s part of the game. He would be a little bit of a nuisance.”
But business always was conducted in gentlemanly fashion, Nancy said.
“My father was the last of the Handshake Generation,” she said.
Linda admired her dad’s gift for bringing out the best in people. “He was the most spectacular person I’ve ever known in my life,” she said.
The only rival for that title, she hastened to note, has been their mother, the former Eleanor Huizenga.
Ellie was a gym teacher in Chatham when Glenn Sr.’s cousin set them up on a blind date. The night went so well, they followed it with a Princeton football game the next day and never looked back, Linda said.
The couple married in 1956 at the Methodist Church.
Their family saga almost ended before it began. While Ellie was pregnant with their first child, Glenn Jr., Glenn Sr. was thrown from his car in a head-on collision with a drunk driver on Route 46.
As Glenn Jr. tells the story, his father used settlement money from that near-tragedy to buy a fisherman’s cabin on Paulinskill Lake in Sussex County. Many summer memories were made there.
The place lacked indoor plumbing, but “we had the most wonderful family vacations. We water-skied. There was a dock with a beach. It was idyllic,” said Linda.
When his kids approached college age, Coutts sold the cabin.
It was the only bad decision he ever made, in his son’s estimation.
Glenn K. Coutts Sr. is predeceased by his parents and by his brothers, Robert Lloyd Coutts Jr. and Clive Muchmore Coutts. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Eleanor H. Coutts; son Glenn K. Coutts Jr. (Sharon), daughters Linda Coutts Snyder (Kenneth) and Nancy Coutts; and by grandchildren Glenn K. Coutts III (Amanda), Julie Coutts, Nicholas Benton and Rebecca Snyder; and by great-grandchildren Elliana Lynn Coutts and Adelina Marie Coutts and Giovanni Ciaburri.
Visiting hours are scheduled at the Methodist Church from 6 pm to 8 pm this Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, followed on Saturday by an 11 am funeral service. The church is at 50 S. Park Place.
Memorial donations in Coutts’ memory may be made to The Trustees of the Morristown Green Inc., 46 Washington St.; or the Morristown United Methodist Church, 50 S. Park Place; or the Morristown Fire Bureau, 161 Speedwell Ave., all in Morristown 07960.