‘Carrotman’ bids farewell to W. Haven
Mayor John M. Picard, right, praises Health Director Eric “Carrotman” Triffin, clad in his trademark costume, and public health nurse Marge Pirolo for their years of service to the city and wishes them luck on their forthcoming retirement at a farewell reception attended by more than two dozen colleagues June 24 in the Health Department at City Hall. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
W. Haven’s ‘free-spirited’ health director calls it a career
By MICHAEL P. WALSH ~ Public Relations Information Coordinator
Eric Triffin, the city’s beloved, free-spirited health director who helped bring public health to the mainstream literally one carrot at a time, is calling it a career after 24 years of service.
Triffin isn’t going it alone, however. He is joined by colleague Marge Pirolo, 67, of Skyline Drive, one of the Health Department’s two public health nurses, who is retiring after serving the city for nearly five years.
Triffin, who turns 59 on June 29, and Pirolo said their goodbyes, embracing more than two dozen City Hall cohorts, including Mayor John M. Picard, who lauded the duo for their commitment to excellence, at a farewell reception June 24 in the health office.
“I want to thank Eric for his years of dedication and service to the city of West Haven,” Picard said. “We’re going to miss his carrot suit. I wish Eric all the best in his future endeavors.”
Triffin, who was born in Paris but grew up in New Haven’s Prospect Hill neighborhood, graduated in 1969 from Hopkins School. In 1984 he earned a bachelor’s degree in community health from Southern Connecticut State University, where he teaches a public health course, and a master’s in public health from Yale University in 1986.
That same year, Triffin got his start with the city writing public health grants. On Feb. 22, 1988, he was appointed health educator by former Democratic Mayor Azelio M. “Sal” Guerra. He was named acting health director on June 8, 1990, by former Republican Mayor Clemente F. Evangeliste and was tapped director two months later.
Like Pirolo, Triffin’s last day of work is June 30. The city has yet to name his successor.
During a career that bore much fruit — and a ham in Triffin, who regularly donned fruit and vegetable costumes to bolster his public health campaigns — he never stopped working for the people. Or dancing to the beat of his own drummer.
By dressing up as a carrot and singing songs about fruits and veggies, Triffin, a health food nut, made eating healthy infectious for kids.
He also made a name for himself around Connecticut as a staunch supporter of public health. All the while soaking up the vibrancy of the New Haven music scene, where he frequents nightclubs known for live music and expresses himself in an animated style of dance uniquely his own, which transcends his deliciously eccentric, high-on-life alter ego.
The serious side of Triffin’s far-out personality, though, saw him author a slew of grants and secure hundreds of thousands in state and federal grant funds for the city’s most vital public health initiatives. He established the department’s first website and newsletter, Health Links, as well as programs for childhood immunization and lead poisoning prevention. He also oversaw the popular walk-in flu clinics, screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, and food service and quality-of-life inspections.
In a post-9/11 society, Triffin helped initiate the position of homeland security coordinator in West Haven. He also was instrumental in instituting the city’s first Medical Reserve Corps and organizing emergency preparedness exercises.
For his swan song, Triffin has laid the groundwork and funding to bring the Health Department into the 21st century with a cutting-edge Web-based system that will maintain records and enable inspections to go directly into the database from the field — all without the tedious transcription from paper to computer. The new database will allow health officials to provide seamless licensing for restaurants, barbershops, beauty shops, and nail and tattoo parlors.
With Triffin, a visionary at heart, his creative juices have never stopped flowing. Whether cooking up fresh organic food recipes — he lives for salads and smoothies — or conjuring up radical new concepts to make living easier and greener, his grand designs, no matter how fantastic, have always been mindful of the relationship fostered between humanity and the environment. And because of the love he exudes, people remember the goodwill health director for the joy and passion that are imbued with all the good that he does and inspires others to do.
That steadfast enthusiasm led Triffin to wage a successful local crusade against the tobacco industry, lobbying for state legislation to ban smoking in public places, including restaurants. Over the years he was a regular contributor to the editorial page of the New Haven Register, penning an array of op-eds advocating public health. He also was a steady guest on “The Mayor’s Office” public cable TV show, with former Democratic Mayor H. Richard Borer Jr. as host, which aired on Comcast Cable’s Citizens Television from 1998 to 2005.
To preach public health, Triffin spent most of his summer weekends driving the department van to fairs, farmers markets and festivals, where he handed out homegrown produce and passed out promotional items — perhaps a grass-roots holdover from his days as a card-carrying member of the hippie generation.
In August 1969, Triffin attended “3 Days of Peace & Music” at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. Twenty-five years later, this time accompanied by his 14-year-old son, Lao, Triffin was on hand for “3 More Days of Peace & Music” at the commemoration of the music festival’s silver anniversary at Woodstock ’94, which was held on a large field in Saugerties, N.Y., about 100 miles north of New York City.
An avid concertgoer, Triffin also witnessed a gamut of now-legendary performances at Yale’s Woolsey Hall, including Cream and Big Brother and The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin.
Triffin is the son of Lois and the late Robert Triffin, the Belgian-born Yale economist who championed European unity for much of his life and correctly foresaw the demise of the Bretton Woods international monetary system. He died in 1993 at age 81 in Ostend, Belgium. Triffin lives in Bethany with his wife, Sandy. They have two children and two grandchildren. He also has a brother, Kerry, who also resides in Bethany.