A Remembrance of Edna Fairbanks-Williams

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(Host) Today, we have a remembrance of a woman who was a familiar face at the Statehouse. And a voice for those who’ve never entered the building, but whose lives are often affected by decisions made there.

Here’s VPR’s Ross Sneyd. 

(Sneyd) Edna Fairbanks-Williams died earlier this week in a traffic accident in Castleton, not far from her home in Hubbardton.

She spent many hours over the years in a succession of old cars, traveling to people in need to give them some spare food or even a tube of toothpaste.

More importantly, Fairbanks-Williams was a tireless advocate for people like herself. She was involved with the Vermont Low-Income Advocacy Council almost from its inception 38 years ago.

She often made her way through the Statehouse with a walker or a wheelchair to argue against budget cuts or program changes.

In 2005, she was on hand when Governor Jim Douglas proposed big changes to the Medicaid health care program for the poor.

(Fairbanks-Williams) "Well, it leaves us paying more, as far as I could make out. It didn’t seem like there was going to be much help in there for the poor."

(Kinzel) It was that kind of straightforward talk that earned Fairbanks-Williams an invitation to the White House in 1993. President Clinton appointed her to board of the national Legal Services Corporation.

She was most influential in the Vermont Statehouse. It’s a building where so many issues are decided simply by the numbers. Fairbanks-Williams put a face to the numbers, and explained through personal experience precisely how people were affected.

That’s what she did during that discussion back in 2005 about Medicaid cuts. She said a seven-dollar-monthly change in premiums would make a big difference to people like her on fixed incomes.

(Fairbanks-Williams) "Well, I would have to give up certain things from my diet. I’m doing chemo right now, and I have to live on a strict diet. If I have to take too much money to pay for something else, I’d have to take something out of my diet."

(Kinzel) Fairbanks-Williams didn’t always win the day. But she always told it as she saw it.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.



Note:  Fairbanks-Williams was 77. Her funeral is today.

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