Remembering my Father In-law, Bruce Sundlun

If you were wondering where Kara and I were the past week, we were in Rhode Island, where my father in-law, Bruce Sundlun died.      We were at his bedside when he passed, and it was a remarkable, emotional experience.     Neither of us had ever watched someone die before, and it truly changed us forever.      Kara delivered one of the eulogies at the funeral, which was no easy task.    Writing it wasn’t difficult, because Kara had so much material to work with, but delivering it, took nerves of steel, which my wife certainly has.

My father in-law lived a pretty amazing life.  He cheated death several times, most notably when he was shot down over Nazi-occupied Beligium during World War II.   Bruce later worked for the Justice Department, helped plan President Kennedy’s inaugural parade, ran an aviation company, a chain of stores and television stations.     Along the way, there were all sorts of fascinating moments, like the time he fired George Steinbrenner.    Then, at age 70, my father in-law was elected governor of Rhode Island.

As governor, Bruce made some bold decisions, some of which had an impact here in Connecticut.    Bruce spearheaded the effort to expand and modernize T.F. Green Airport.  As a result, Rhode Island attracted Southwest Airlines and almost immediately, people from Connecticut were coming to the Ocean State to get cheaper fares out of Providence.    A few years later, Bradley Airport was expanding and modernizing.

My father in-law was also instrumental in the revival of Providence, turning it into a retail and tourist destination.   He loved to tell me the story of how he and then Mayor Buddy Cianci traveled to Seattle to try to persuade Nordstrom to open up shop in what was believed to be a dying New England city.   It worked.     Nordstrom now anchors the Providence Place development, which  has attracted national retailers, upscale condominiums, and companies that have relocated to Providence because it has become  very cool city.

Bruce pushed for the Rhode Island Convention Center and Westin Hotel and the reclaiming of  rivers that were once buried downtown.      Providence has received national acclaim for its revival and has become a model for how mall cities should re-invent themselves.

Shortly thereafter, leaders here in Connecticut pursued the same course of action for our capital city and there were plenty of comparisons with Providence.     We built the Connecticut Convention Center, a luxury hotel, the Science Center, housing and Front Street.


Bruce Sundlun visiting the Connecticut Science Center, 2010

Bruce would often ask me about Connecticut politics, and we discussed at length his work on turning Providence around and what would work here in Hartford.  He acknowledged our capital city had advantages over his city, but when he looked around he told me they were obviously not being used to their fullest potential.

At Bruce’s funeral, I asked Cianci why downtown Providence seems to be faring better than Hartford.  Without hesitation, he said Hartford’s problem is that “they tore everything down, and they are left with so much barren land.”  Cianci told me how he and my father in-law worked hard to preserve and rehab buildings and accentuate them with new construction.    He has promised to come on Face the State sometime in the future to talk about the two cities.

I only wish my father in-law could join him.

17 replies »

  1. So sorry about your loss. I will keep your family in my prayers. God Bless your family at this time and always.


  2. This is an awesome tribute to your Father – in – law. You have a great gift with words & how to express yourself. I was also at my Mom’s side when she died. I could not have put it into words like you did. Thank You for expressing what I was feeling. My condolences to, Kara & your family. Your Father – in – law is with you forever.


  3. I think this a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. I am not sure but I may have met him. I traveled to Rhode Island with my father for a convention of ICMA, the International City Manager Association. My dad was city mangager of Manchester, CT from 1965-1989 and was city manager in Windsor for 16 years before that. I know what it is like to have a family member in government and hope that when my father’s time comes, I too can provide a living tribute to him as you and your family have done for Bruce. My condolences to the entire family.


  4. Dennis, this was a terrific Tribute to your Father In-Law, I had the pleasure of meeting him when you and Kara brought him to Tony March to pick up His new Buick. A very fasinating person and part of the Greatest Generation. People like him are a rare breed. Sad that life spans are not into the hundreds, We lose so much with every passing. My Thoughts are with you and Kara and the children.


  5. Dennis & Kara,
    So sorry for your loss. He was a great man & had a great life. Thoughts & prayers coming your way.

    Carol Main


  6. Our condolences on the loss of a truely remarkable man. As we discovered when we lost my Dad years ago, and Mother last year, we never really outgrow our parents. An awe-inspiring man like this must be leaving an even sadder hole in your hearts, but it sounds like you’ve some truely incredible, wonderful memories.


  7. Dennis and Kara,
    Again, I’m so sorry for your loss. Seeing a loved one cross over for the first time is a scary, heartbreaking, joyful, emotional experience.
    Being a former EMT, I’ve seen many spirits leave their bodies, including family members. Hearing their last words to pass on to their loved ones, is never an easy task. No one has ever said, “I wish I could spend more time at work.” You can Kara are blessed to have been there with him until his final breath.
    He sounds like he was a fiesty ole guy. I hope it brings you comfort and perhaps a smile to know not only is he no longer in pain, but he’s on the other side raising hell as well.
    He’s happy and joyful and healed. The pain is left with those left behind. May your hearts heal with time. God bless you and your family.

    Durelle DeMarkey


  8. My sincere condolences to you and Kara! I was truly inspired to read your tribute to Kara’s father. Helena and Julian are truly blessed to have such awesome parents! God bless you both!


  9. My sincere condolences to you and Kara. Losing a parent at any age is extremely difficult, my prayers are with all of you. Dennis, what a wonderful tribute to an extraordinary man. Thanks for sharing.


  10. Dennis and Kara,
    Our deepest sympathies on your loss. Very often I heard Kara speak of her father on Better CT. I could tell what an accomplished man he was. I was in awe on Mondays show of Better, when Scot was talking about attending the funeral, and telling viewers about what a great man Bruce Sundlin was. May you both find peace in knowing your father in law is watching over all of you, and is suffering no more. God Bless


  11. So sorry for your loss of your father. When I lost my mother, I realized that our mothers live in our hearts. But it is true of our fathers, too. Both mine do and have for a long time. They live in our hearts, Kara and Dennis. God Bless.


  12. Dennis,

    I wanted to make sure you got my email so I’m posting it here also.

    For your father–
    Dennis & Kara know that time makes everything easier to bear and deal with.
    I learned that when I had to watch my father, still a young man, die from cancer long before it was his time to go. I’m sorry to say I’ve seen to many cases where family history is a powerful factor even when a young person is constantly monitoring.

    See Dennis’ June 6, 2011 “Capital Catwalk ….” Blogs’ June 10, 2011 2nd,3rd,4th entries

    I am resending you my email at I originally sent it to you at this email(and Kara at in early 2008. I resent it to both of you at these emails again in Feb 2009; at the same time, I sent it to the whole WFSB Newsteam-I got back only an “Out of office” email reply from Al and an “On leave” email reply from Dana N.

    I and others look foward to your response to my email and my blog response above.



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