BETHEL — In the last 1970s, when Dr. Robert Fand grew concerned about the health implications of fluoride in the town’s public water system, he fought to have it removed, and won.
When Fand believed it was immoral for the town’s police department to require quotas for traffic tickets, he fought against the practice and it was abolished. That was years before state lawmakers ended ticket quotas in Connecticut.
As a U.S. Army doctor from the Vietnam War era, Fand fought locally for property tax relief for veterans, and he succeeded.
“Whether you agreed with him or not, Dr. Fand was a guy who believed passionately in his community and worked very hard to have an influence on both local and state politics,” said Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker. “He certainly left his footprint.”
Fand, 75, the founder and past chairman of the Independent Party of Connecticut, died New Year’s Day at Danbury Hospital.
While he didn’t win all of his battles, those who knew Fand said he was a dogged advocate for his beliefs.
Besides his political advocacy, Fand started a medical practice in Danbury in the late 1960s and opened a second office about a decade ago in Montville.
“Dr. Fand is the kind of person you need around government, someone who his always willing to challenge the status quo,” said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. “You may not agree with him, but he participated and was involved, and was very knowledgeable and, I would say, brilliant when it came to certain issues.”
Fand’s persistence, Boughton said, is “legendary.”
Some of Fand’s friends and colleagues said the party he started more than three decades ago was beginning to have a marked impact on statewide politics.
Starting the Unaffiliated Party in the late 1970s and renaming it the Independent Party in 1987, Fand created the largest minority party in the state, with nearly 14,000 registered members as of last month.
The party has guaranteed ballot lines for a number of state legislative districts and earned a spot on the ballot last year for the U.S. Senate seat through Linda McMahon’s failed bid.
“Fand obviously felt strongly that voters in Connecticut needed an alternative choice and dedicated more than 30 years of his life to that,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
She said Fand’s decision to cross-endorse Republican candidates in recent years “probably put the party in the strongest position its ever been in.”
While Fand was recently challenged for the Independent Party’s leadership by a Waterbury faction, attorney William Hagan, who represented him in at least one legal challenges involved in the matter, said a Waterbury judge found in late September “there were no proper amendments to the party rules that would permit this other group to seize control of the party.
“Shortly after that decision was rendered,” Hagan said, “the plaintiffs withdrew the case.”
Fand’s wife, Suzanne Fand, said he was overjoyed in August when the Independent Party held a statewide convention and the room was full of high-profile members of the state Republican Party.
“He just wanted to be in a position where he could effect change,” she said. “He wanted to have an influence, and I believe he did. He did a lot of good.”
While most know Fand from his political life, friends and family said there was another side to the man.
“Nobody knows about the good work he did every day for an untold number of people,” said Billy Michael, a local tax watchdog who knew Fand for more than 30 years. “If someone needed housing or a job, he would do everything he could to help. There are a lot of people out there who will miss him.”
Michael described Fand as a “time-tested warrior for conservative causes.”
Suzanne Fand recalled when a local contractor who had done work on their home was dismayed at having a bad set of false teeth, so her husband called a dentist he knew to give the contractor a break on a new set.
“That was typical of my husband,” she said. “If a patient came to my husband and couldn’t afford the bill, he would give them a break or treat them for free. He really liked helping people and he wanted to work up to the end. And that’s exactly what he did.”