NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Pam Boardman-Simpson says she’ll remember Charlton Gilbert as the cute little boy with glasses in her sixth grade class at Alice Peck Elementary School in Hamden back in 1964.
Gilbert died early Wednesday of smoke inhalation after police say a fire broke out in his sixth-floor apartment at the University Towers building on York Street. He was 63.
Two other residents had to be transported to the hospital with burns or smoke inhalation and two firefighters also were treated for minor injuries. Dozens were forced out onto the street. Fire officials are still investigating for a cause.
“A friend of ours called me this morning and told me the name and I said, ‘Charlton, is that Chuck?’ and then of course I learned during the day that it had been,” Boardman-Simpson said.
She said the last time she saw Gilbert “he had on his hat with a little draw strap and I said, ‘Chuck, do you know how I am?’” The old classmates then reminisced about old times.
“He was always looking forward,” said Boardman-Simpson, adding that that is how she’ll remember him.
Neighbors say Gilbert was a sort of fixture downtown. He could often be seen walking around making friends with people on the street.
“Every day he would always be like, ‘Hello, Maureen, how are you doing?’ Just always very friendly,” said Maureen Wright.
Perhaps it was something in his blood that made him such a joy to be around. Gilbert was the nephew of A.C. Gilbert, a famous Connecticut toymaker.
“For 50 years, Alfred Carlton Gilbert put his signature on toys for children,” reads a page dedicated to him on the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop’s website. “He built a world of learning tools that were unified by a distinct, personal vision. No toymaker’s name in history is better known.”
Said Boardman-Simpson, “If his family is out there, let them know that he has people that cared about him and that we stopped and we looked and we listened to his story.”
AJ Walker reporting