Stafford remembered as man who led by example

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(Host) When Vermonters gathered in Rutland over the weekend, they remembered Robert Stafford as a man who led by example and fought earnestly for causes that mattered most to him. Family, friends and dozens of long time politicians filled the pews of Grace Congregational Church on Saturday to pay tribute to the former Governor and U.S. Senator who died December 23rd at the age of 93.

VPR’s Nina Keck was there and filed this report.

(Keck) Dinah Stafford, one of Robert Stafford’s four daughters, said her father would have enjoyed the pomp and ceremony of the memorial service. The ornate church, the rich sounds of the choir and an audience made up of the biggest names in Vermont politics.

Governor Douglas was there, as were Senators Patrick Leahy, Jim Jeffords and Bernie Sanders. Just behind them sat former Governors Howard Dean and Tom Salmon and row after row of other state officials.

Stafford’s daughter Barbara said her fathers’ political accomplishments and his public persona were well known.

(Barbara Stafford) “But I’d like to share what Bob Stafford is to us, his family. He is the maker of Sunday pancakes, the steak griller, the teller of many recurring, corny jokes some of you may know, the skier and promoter of us skiing together. One of his phrases often was, you’ll have a good time even though you’re crying all the way through this.'” (Laughter)

(Keck) Stafford’s grandson, Rob Glase, talked about how important family was to his grandfather. And he said Stafford’s work on behalf of education and the environment showed them all what one individual can accomplish.

(Rob Glace) “If there’s any legacy he’s leaving us, and not just us, but everybody gathered here today – If he’s leaving all of us a legacy, it’s to carry on his commitment to make this a better place for everyone on this planet. And I guess we as grandchildren just hope to make him proud in that.”

(Keck) Stafford was born in Rutland in 1913. He went to Middlebury College and then on to Boston University Law School. After serving in the Navy in World War Two and in Korea, he returned to Rutland to practice law. In 1955 he was elected Vermont’s Attorney General and his meteoric political career took off.

After only two years as attorney general, he ran for Lieutenant Governor and won. Two years after that, he was elected Governor. In 1961 it was on to Washington where he spent 28 years in both houses of Congress. Senator Patrick Leahy called Robert Stafford his closest friend in the senate.

As a young lawmaker, Leahy said Stafford took him under his wing and taught him how to be a senator.

(Leahy) “He also was a good legislator. He had quiet humor and got his work done. I remember coming on the floor one day – he was managing a bill and one of our distinguished colleagues, and they’re all distinguished colleagues. This one was distinguished for giving long winded and obtuse speeches – and he’d been going on for nearly an hour. And I sat down next to Bob and I said Bob, what’s he talking about?’ He said – hasn’t said yet Pat.'” (Laughter)

(Keck) Leahy shared several funny stories before taking a long, quiet breath.

(Leahy) “But in my public life I will never have such a mentor or friend or reminder of what a Vermont is. So I say, goodbye to my senior senator. Thank you. (Applause)

(America the Beautiful plays)

(Keck) Patrick Leahy then walked over to Stafford’s widow Helen and kissed her on the cheek.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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