Frederick Louis Lisman was born in Wilkes Barre, PA, then moving with his family to the East Rock Section of New Haven where he grew up. He graduated from St. Mary’s High School in New Haven, the Fairfield University class of 1960 then onto Purdue for his Ph.D. in nuclear physical chemistry in 1965.
While at Purdue he also met his wife, Barbara, whom he married in June of 1962. They went to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where he worked for Phillips Petroleum as senior scientist at the National Reactor Test Station and taught in the graduate degree program for employees.
When a position opened up at Fairfield University, he came back to Connecticut to Barbara’s home town, Milford, and taught chemistry as an associate professor for 19 years, as well as several years as chairman of the Chemistry Department.
Fred entered Milford politics embracing it and his adopted home town. He was coach, manager, and commissioner of the Milford Junior Major League and founding member and past president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association. Lisman was on the Milford Hospital Board of Directors, and was co-chair, along with Barbara, of the Red Cross Building Campaign.
In November 1989 he was elected Milford’s eighth mayor. He had earned his way to the political top as a Republican member of the Planning & Zoning Board, Board of Finance, and Board of Aldermen. He was a skilled aldermanic opposition leader and held multiple committee chairmanships. He was a member of the Milford Golf Commission and South Central Connecticut Regional Council of Governments.
He even took on the reconstruction of Milford High School into city offices for the Democratic party mayor of the time.
Lisman enjoyed being mayor during his six terms, proving to be a good manager and keeping the city credit rating high while consolidating public services to make them more efficient. He was usually the smartest person in the room, and usually the most politically savvy.
Among his most lasting accomplishments is the municipal golf course off North Street, The Orchards, and the Head of the Harbor project downtown, now known as Lisman Landing. Both are enjoyed to this day by the citizenry.
The harbor project was his most masterful political accomplishment. After years of being blocked, the Harbor Commission and Zoning Board finally approved it. The state Department of Environmental Protection did not. They loved the scenery, the handicapped access and all the plans, just not the marina and the dredging that came with it.
The DEP cited tidal flatland law and the presence of certain marine worms. They weren’t protected species but the state reasoned that some unknown and unidentified endangered species “might want to eat them.”
Fred went into action. He asked a Democratic state legislator to float a rumor in Hartford that he was to be named the new DEP Commissioner in the then recently elected Rowland administration. It was not true, but when the head of the DEP and the recalcitrant DEP “experts,” along with a who’s who of Milford leaders, met in the mayor’s office, the rumor was not denied.
The DEP head, not wanting to irk his prospective boss, asked the staffers if the tidal wetlands were flat? No, there was a slight slope they said. He then directed them to shut up as he determined the tidal flatlands rules did not apply, at least to the West side of the harbor. Fred looked like the cat that swallowed the canary as the project was approved.
Politics were never personal with Mayor Lisman and he could work with and even respect the other side of an issue. Doris Gagnon passed away in 1994 after having gained national attention in the early 1990s when she fought the state’s efforts to evict her and her animals from the proposed Silver Sands State Park site.
She lived as a squatter after the state demolished her former house in 1971 through eminent domain. “Doris fought the city of Milford, the state and the federal government and she basically won,” Lisman said in a 1994 interview recalling Gagnon. “She fought for what she believed in.”
Fred Lisman died after a battle against cancer, leaving a large, loving and proud family, most of whom are no longer living in the Milford area.