“A Memory Mosaic” — Catherine Tell Romer, Nod Hill Soap Owner and Wilton Volunteer [Obituary]

Catherine Romer (photo: contributed)

Catherine Tell Romer, the owner of Nod Hill Soap, a dedicated volunteer at the Wilton Historical Society and supporter of Wilton Library, and a longtime Wilton resident, passed away on June 25. Her close friend, writer/producer Megan Smith-Harris has written a tribute to honor and remember Romer.

Catherine Tell Romer always flew under the radar and she liked it that way. If you lived in Wilton you might have shopped at her charming Nod Hill Soap store, or you may have known her from her extensive volunteer work. Perhaps you recognize her name from her many philanthropic contributions to our community. She was charming, creative, hard-working, smart, and funny.

But only a handful of people can claim to have known Catherine well, for she was a private person who eschewed the limelight. She wasn’t a fan of small talk or large gatherings. Rather, she preferred the company of family and close friends in a more relaxed setting.

Catherine Romer with her sons, Andrew and Charlie (photo: contributed)

Catherine cherished her sons, Andy, 32, (a fine art reproduction photographer, recently married to Courtney Adwoa, now residing in Harlem);  and Charlie, 29, (a computer science lab instructor at Mount Holyoke College who lives with his partner, Taylor Lopatofsky in Amherst, Massachusetts), and the feeling was mutual.

She delighted in holiday gatherings — even more, when she wasn’t doing the cooking —and being surrounded by the people she loved. Catherine savored bourbon chocolate pecan pie and the deliciousness of perfectly made tea sandwiches and lemon cake. She was a wine enthusiast with a naturally refined palate and particularly fond of chilled white Burgundy. A bit feline herself, she adored her cats and enjoyed spending time with them on the garden terrace of her Whipstick Rd. home, especially in autumn when the vibrant fall leaves were at their most spectacular.

Catherine enjoyed books and films; her favorite combination of these two mediums was perfectly embodied in the 1995 BBC mini-series, “Pride and Prejudice,” starring the swoon-worthy Colin Firth as “Mr. Darcy.” (Who can blame her?)

Her other passions included art, museums, music, travel, and all things French. Most of all, she really loved soap. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s turn the clock back a bit…

photo: contributed

Born in Cleveland, OH in 1963, Catherine grew up variously in Shaker Heights, Houston, and Washington DC. After attending an all-girls Catholic School in DC, she spent her last year of high school in Greenwich, and then went on to Ithaca College, where she majored in political science and minored in art history. After graduation, Catherine began work at a Laura Ashley store in Hartford, where she met her future husband, Edward Romer.

The couple married in 1988 and welcomed their first son, Andy in 1989. The newly-minted family relocated to Nantucket where they opened Five Corners of Nantucket, MA, a successful gourmet store and catering business that sold high-end deli items, olive oil, cheeses, wine, and their legendary lobster salad.

“Catherine was the living embodiment of Five Corners,” Ed recalled. “Everybody knew and loved her. She was the front person, the face of the business.”

As a sought-after summer destination, Nantucket meant the couple worked non-stop during the high season while doing their best to wrangle their two young children (Charlie joined the brood in 1993), as well as a dozen college-aged employees. “It was a crazy, hectic, happy, life,” says Ed.

By 1997, the family was ready for a change. They sold the business and decamped to Montecito in Santa Barbara, CA, where they opened Dandy Andy’s, a gourmet store and café. The climate and lifestyle suited Catherine and her boys, but after three years, they decided to return to the east coast to help with an ailing family member and settled into a comfortable mid-century home in North Wilton.

Life proceeded apace, but at a certain point, after the boys were grown and off to college, the house, once bursting with energy and life, suddenly felt empty. Catherine became bored and admitted to being “a bit cranky.” She didn’t know what to do with herself.

Ed had observed his wife’s keen interest in soap over the years and idly remarked, “You love fancy soap. Why don’t you just make some?” She looked at him like he had three heads, but soon, the idea took root. A few weeks later, after a deep research dive, Catherine began to experiment with making soap in their kitchen. She soon developed her signature soap recipe combining shea and cocoa butter with a coconut and olive oil base. Giant rolling racks filled to the brim with ingredients and soap products sprang up in both boys’ bedrooms. Catherine started to sell her fragrant wares at local holiday and farmers’ markets and her burgeoning business took off.

It soon was clear she’d outgrown her home-based business, so production was moved to a new location in Wilton Center. In 2012, Catherine opened Nod Hill Soap, a European-style boutique, which also sold custom lotions, rose water toners, bath scrubs, lip balm, bath salts, and scented sachets.

“I love everything there is about soap, from fine French-milled soap to rustic country soap,” Catherine enthused at the time, “I am completely drawn to it; inspired by the texture, the smell, the appearance — even the packaging!”

Wilton triplets Grace, Olivia, and Nicole Deluca all worked at the store at various times during their high school and college years. “Catherine played a huge role in my daughters’ lives,” shared their mother, Melanie Deluca. “She taught them so many lessons about responsibility, customer service, and community engagement. But more than that, Catherine was a strong woman role model for them — she turned her passion into a business and ran it her own way.”

Any non-profit organization, large or small, that approached Nod Hill Soap for a donation never walked away empty-handed — Catherine gave generously to everyone.

“She always supported the Holiday Sip & Shop in support of Circle of Care,” recalled close friend and stylist, Janet Montalbano. “All you had to do is ask, and she’d step up to help. From the moment I met her, I just knew she was going to be one of my tribe. Catherine had that pure, flower child energy and I absolutely loved being around her.”

And Catherine didn’t just donate products, she also donated generously of her time.

Former Wilton Historical Society co-executive director Allison Gray Sanders remembered how devoted Catherine was to the organization.

“As a long-time member of the Collections Committee, Catherine was part of a small but dedicated team who cared for the many museum objects not on view. She was particularly knowledgeable about the costume collection. Delighting in the craftsmanship and materials, she loved everything from the discovery of the beauty of tiny details, to the history of how the fabrics and trims were made. Her gentle, yet heartfelt enthusiasm, was the inspiration for A Century of Style: 1860-1960, a very fine 2018 exhibition of special occasion dresses.”

Kim Mellin, former WHS co-executive director, said Catherine contributed in so many ways.

“As Chair of the Artisan Committee for the American Artisan Show, Catherine used her keen eye to raise the quality of the exhibitors, never mincing words or shying from critiques. Not only did she spend hours with me and Lynda Campble pouring over submissions and looking for new artists, she was also an exhibitor with a booth for Nod Hill Soap, which was one of the most beautiful displays,” Mellin said, adding, “The nine years I spent with Catherine working on the AAS were among my favorite times at WHS, her sense of humor and friendship made everything more fun,”

Catherine was a stalwart supporter of the Wilton Library Association as well, according to the former WLA Executive Director Elaine Tai Lauria says,

“During my tenure, Catherine remained an incredible friend, advocate, and supporter of Wilton Library, and indeed of our community. She was a beautiful human being, kind and gentle in everything she did. It was truly gratifying to honor her at the Library’s 125th Anniversary Gala and to recognize her many contributions.”

Tish Brubeck agreed. “Catherine was a dear person whose company we always enjoyed. It was through Catherine and her family’s generosity that the Red, Hot and Cool Jazz Series was launched at the library. Thanks to their sponsorship, we were able to bring in top talent to play for Wilton audiences.”

Chris Brubeck was also a fan. “Tish and I are so glad we were able to thank Catherine personally and honor her for her many contributions at the 125th Anniversary Library Gala event held at our family’s then home on Millstone Rd. I know she will be missed by all who knew her.”

Over the past six years, Catherine’s life path diverged from that of her husband. While Ed became enamored of Berlin and is now a full-time resident there, Catherine remained in Wilton to focus on her thriving online and retail soap business. Though living apart, the couple remained steadfast friends, spoke regularly, and were engaged in one another’s lives.

In the last five years of her life, Catherine found joy, contentment, and much happiness with Chris Hamilton, owner of Molly & Murphy All Natural Dog Biscuits. He first met Catherine at the Norfield Grange Farmers Market in Weston where they both had a retail display. A vase of Chris’s exquisite homegrown roses set a friendship in motion that years later, blossomed into romance.

“I called her Lady Catherine or ‘L.C.’ for short,” Chris said with a laugh. “I admired who she was before I even fell in love with her — her grace, her ease, her friendliness, her demeanor, her etiquette.”

The couple enjoyed an easy companionability that included opera, jazz, jigsaw puzzles, spontaneous getaways, quality naps, good food, and mutual encouragement of their respective businesses.

In the Spring of 2021, Catherine was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. Though she endured many long months of difficult treatments, she remained upbeat and uncomplaining. I last saw Catherine in the fall of 2021. We sat in front of her living room fireplace, sipping chilled Sancerre and eating perfectly prepared tea sandwiches, followed by a superb homemade lemon cake. She looked radiant and we spent several hours laughing, gossiping, and catching up. This is how I will choose to remember my friend.

At the time, Catherine was hopeful — as we all were — that her upcoming treatments would prove to be successful. Sadly, they were not.

In the mid-afternoon of June 25, Ed called from Berlin to share the devastating news that Catherine had passed. Her last breaths were taken at her beloved Wilton home, surrounded by her boys, their partners, and her new love Chris, while “Pride and Prejudice” quietly played in the background and Mr. Darcy lulled her onto her next chapter.

Repose en paix, my dear, sweet, funny Catherine.

For those who would like to honor Catherine Tell Romer and carry on her tradition of giving, tax-deductible donations can be made in her memory to Wilton Historical Society and/or Wilton Library Association.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I had the honor of knowing Catherine while serving with her on the library board. I loved reading this tribute and learning more about her life. She was elegant and unique. She will be dearly missed.

  2. I met Catherine when I was working for the Cannon Grange and needed vendors. From that day forward she always participated in every market or fair that we had. Catherine will be greatly missed. What a lovely person, my deepest sympathies to her family at this time. Excellent and very true tribute to her too.

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