[This is the third installment in a four-part series “Matriarchs of Main & Elm,” profiling the women behind New Canaan’s great business families.]
Thomas George Franco II—‘Tom,’ as he’s known today on Elm Street, site of the family’s eponymous wine and liquor shop, a fixture of downtown New Canaan for nearly a century—recalls the challenge he faced as a young man in 1975, trying to acclimate back to civilian life upon being discharged from the Army following a three-year tour during the Vietnam War. Fortunately for the newly made U.S. Army veteran, Tom was one of 11 Franco siblings—all students of St. Aloysius School and graduates of New Canaan Public Schools—who knew a remarkable woman named Lydia Franco O’Neil as ‘Aunt Lee.’
At the time, Aunt Lee had a condominium in Florida with her husband, longtime local U.S. Postal Service worker Bill O’Neil, and the plan was for Tom to drive her down to the Sunshine State so that she could have a car there, and he would fly back. “That was the perfect reintroduction back into civilian life,” Tom recalled on a recent evening. “We talked all the way down—about Uncle Bill, the family, what I was going to do now, and just things in general.