Above: Henry, Kevin, Grace, Barbara and Will Conroy at a fundraiser for Shatterproof, a nonprofit that helps people dealing with addiction.
Walk down the main drag of Rowayton Avenue and you’ll find pretty much everything at your fingertips: an upscale market, post office, hardware store, community bank, restaurants and a residential barn building. It’s safe to say that many of these places of necessity and comfort wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for KEVIN CONROY, real estate investor, restauranteur and—because of recent life events—a powerful advocate against addiction. We asked the longtime local business owner about his numerous contributions to the community and his recent work with the nonprofit organization Shatterproof.
I read somewhere that long ago it was your mission to revitalize the downtown community. When did you get your start in Rowayton? I’ve lived here since I was 19. When Barbara and I were raising our four children here, we were all about trying to build a great community with amazing resources and a unique village feel. I started by investing in real estate and running a fish market, and then opening a waterfront restaurant, Rowayton Seafood. In 2000, I bought the old Rowayton Market and spent two years renovating it so our town would have a gourmet market with a beautiful deck and marina. I sold it, but I still love investing in local businesses. Next, I bought the property across the street and rebuilt it completely, adding a few shops and some residential units in back. Then, I moved down the street a bit and invested in building the SoNo Ice House hockey rink.
You’ve made so many contributions to the community over the years. How do you like to give back? I love the community of Rowayton. It’s a very family-oriented place where people reach out to others who need help. It feels like home, and I like having a central place where people can gather and enjoy life, family and friends. I love supporting local families, schools and community organizations including the Rowayton Civic Association, our fire department, Rowayton Elementary School, Shakespeare on the Sound, and local charity events. Until recently, my focus has been on kids and education.
What changed the way you direct your giving? I still donate to the organizations I’ve given to in the past, but I’ve added more. The biggest thing that’s ever happened to me is the terrible loss of my son Jack, three years ago from a drug overdose. He was an amazing boy and was a natural athlete who liked lacrosse, skiing and snowboarding. He loved being on the water, especially surfing and fishing. He was very relaxed, but also a fierce protector who everybody wanted to be around. Jack would have been 24 this year. These days, I live for my kids Will (27), Henry (22) and Grace (20), and my goal is to remember Jack’s love, honor his memory and recognize what a serious addiction he had.
What advice would you give to people who suspect that a loved one is experimenting with drugs? The moment you uncover that someone is caught up in drugs, you must do everything possible, immediately. Addiction is so powerful and fast-moving, and once someone is in its clutches you are fighting for that person’s life. The longer the addiction goes on, the more damage is done to the brain and the more difficult it is to fight the disease.
After Jack died I felt paralyzed. Thoughts of, “What didn’t I do? What did I miss?” put me in a very dark place. My son’s death was a terrible tragedy. Now, I ask myself how do I rise up, honor my son’s life, and talk openly about how to help. I want to take action to another level to help other families dealing with addiction. No one wants to talk about it, but we need to forget the stigma and the shame. I’m lucky that I have the help of lots of people with access to resources that can make a big impact.
Tell me about your involvement with the nonprofit organization Shatterproof. I met CEO and founder Gary Mendell shortly after Jack passed. My entire family had lived this serious addiction that Jack had, and we fought it hard. My thoughts after he died were, “What do I do? Who do I donate to? How can I help and make sure other people don’t suffer?” I found an invaluable resource in Shatterproof, and I’ve been fortunate to have the support of many local people and friends as I’ve begun to support this organization. I love being in a small town and rallying the community for an important cause.
How does Shatterproof help drug addicts and their families? Shatterproof is committed to ending the devastation that the disease of addiction has on our families. In just four years, more than 150,000 people and 130 companies have put their support behind the nonprofit, and together they’ve saved thousands of lives. Shatterproof has championed legislation in fourteen states, ensuring that doctors who prescribe opioids are required to follow certain safety precautions, and expanding access to the overdose-reversing medication Naloxone, which will save more than 10,000 lives over the next decade. The organization also advocates tirelessly to ensure that those who need treatment for addiction have access to health insurance that provides the same quality of care offered to those suffering from other diseases, at the same relative cost. In 2016, Shatterproof launched a comprehensive website that families can use to learn about prevention, treatment and recovery; all the information is based on proven research. The group’s most important initiative is to completely transform the treatment system in the United States.
In addition to your work with Shatterproof, what are you doing to honor Jack’s memory? Jack’s mother, Barbara Bates Conroy, has a new website, (dearjack.love) that offers information and resources surrounding addiction, recovery, grief and loss. Her book, Dear Jack, A Love Letter, will be available on Amazon and through Barnes and Noble in April, the third anniversary of his passing. All proceeds will go to the Jackson Scott Conroy Foundation. The foundation’s mission is dedicated to supporting teens and young adults suffering from opioid and heroin addiction. Costly treatment centers are often out of reach for many families, so we will award partial and full scholarships to fund treatment through an application process and support anyone struggling with addiction. My life has changed forever, and I miss and love my Jack every day. I truly want to thank everyone who has helped me in the past so I can help others.
For more information, go to shatterproof.org