Meet John Webster, Our Naming Contest Winner
By Ann Melchior
When told his entry, The Belted Gazette, was the winner of our “Name the Newsletter” contest, John Webster enthusiastically emailed back: “I’m both surprised and pleased all at once! I have had a love affair with the Belted Galloways for over 45 years!”
A few days later I sat down with John at his home for an interview. I learned the story of how John developed such affection for the cows we Fearringtonians consider our community mascot. That is when I realized John’s winning our naming contest was kismet.
But first, a bit about John. For many Villagers, Boston-born John Webster needs no introduction. John and husband, Kimball Page (“Kim”), moved to Fearrington in August 1986. This was a time, John hastens to add, when Fearrington was a small village and most residents knew one another. After renting homes on Creekwood, the couple bought homes on Brampton Close and later on Spindlewood. Eventually sizing down, they ended up at John’s current home on E. Camden, across from the park. In earlier days, both John and Kim were active Fearringtonians known for hosting fundraisers for local non-profits. John also served as the president of Fearrington’s Garden Club.
John’s home is filled with antiques, collectibles, trompe-l’oeil, and mementos of the Galloway cow. All are good memories of the life he shared with Kim, who passed away in September 2018 at the age of 89. John is mostly retired from a varied career that included being an antique dealer. More recently John worked for Southern Seasons, the now-closed Chapel Hill gourmet store where he was a manager and buyer. John smiles recalling how he talked Kim into working at Southern Seasons too, “for something to do in his retirement,” and how customers were charmed by Kim, a bon vivant with interesting stories.
What first brought John and Kim to Fearrington? Florida friends pondering a move asked the couple to check the development out. They did so in June 1985. Both were impressed with the little English-themed village that came into view as they turned onto Village Way. And that’s when John saw them: Fitch’s Galloways grazing next to the silo. John immediately recognized the unusual black and white cows, which he acknowledges colored his positive impression of Fearrington that day. In fact, John and Kim were so charmed by Fearrington on that visit they decided to move here, even though their Florida friends didn’t.
So, you might wonder, why was John so taken by the grazing Galloway cows that day? This story requires us to delve a little further back in time.
In the mid-1970s John and Kim moved to a rural Vermont home in Waitsfield, a half hour from Stowe. Their neighbor, a farmer, was a man named Werner von Trapp. Now the story gets a bit…musical.
This neighbor was the same Werner von Trapp who, in his childhood, was a member of the Trapp Family Singers. This singing troupe was popularized in the 1959 Broadway play The Sound of Music with Mary Martin, and later in the 1965 movie with Julie Andrews. As readers may recall, the von Trapp family fled to the United States from Austria in the 1940s where, when not performing on the road, they ran a lodge and music camp in Stowe. So yes, Werner von Trapp, John Webster’s neighbor, was of the musical von Trapp family. According to Wikipedia, Werner was the 2nd oldest son of the singing children (and referred to as “Kurt” in the movie). After serving in the US Army during WWII, Werner became a dairy farmer, raised six children with his wife, and retired to Waitsfield, VT where he raised…Scottish heritage Galloway cows.
And that’s the nexus. Werner von Trapp’s dairy farm was situated next to John and Kim’s Vermont home. “That’s the first time I saw a Galloway,” John recalled, “they were called Oreos.” John has studied the Galloway’s origins and knows that this cold-tolerant, docile breed was popular in nearby Maine where, he notes, RB Fitch acquired his first Galloways.
That is why John “felt it was home” when he and Kim first drove into Fearrington Village and saw Fitch’s cattle grazing. It brought back fond memories of living in Vermont with the von Trapp’s Galloways right next door.
Despite spending over two hours with John, I felt the interview ended too soon. As a newcomer to Fearrington, I enjoyed hearing about the Village “back in the day” when everyone knew one another and RB and Jenny Fitch were commonly seen around the ‘hood. I will now think of John, and his passion for the Galloway, whenever I walk or drive by the ‘Oreo’ cows grazing in our Village fields.