Former lieutenant governor Barbara Snelling, the matriarch of the Vermont Republican Party in the 1990s, died Monday at her home in South Burlington. She was 87.
Snelling, formerly of Shelburne, made her name in community service and business before following her husband, the late governor Richard Snelling, into the political arena. Her civic achievements included heading the school board that established Champlain Valley Union High School; committees of the Chittenden County United Way that set up the Champlain Valley Area Agency on Aging; and a child care referral service.
Once her four children were grown, Snelling worked as vice president of development and external affairs at the University of Vermont, leaving in 1982 to start her own consulting business — Snelling and Kolb.
She entered politics after the sudden death of her husband, governor Snelling, in 1991. She was elected lieutenant governor the next year and won a second term in 1994. During those years, Snelling stood at the head of the Republican Party and was preparing to challenge Democratic governor Howard Dean in 1996. Dean had preceded Barbara Snelling as lieutenant governor and became governor when her husband died of a heart attack.
A near-fatal cerebral hemorrhage in April 1996 derailed Snelling’s challenge of Dean. She made a significant recovery, and won a seat in the Senate in 1996.
In 1998, she attempted to regain the office of lieutenant governor from Democrat Doug Racine, but fell short by 500 votes. She returned to the Senate in 2000, but was forced to resign midway through the term after she suffered a stroke. Her daughter, Diane, was appointed to her seat.
“Barbara Snelling served Vermont with great distinction in roles big and small,” said Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin in an official statement. He had served with her in the Senate. “Whether in service to her state or community, Barbara will always be remembered for her compassion and dedication and for overcoming great personal tragedy to continue to give back to the state she loved.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who, as Snelling once did, hopes the office of lieutenant governor can be a springboard to the state’s top job, urged Vermonters to “honor Barbara by carrying on her legacy of public service, finding ways to work with others, and living our lives to the fullest — leaving no opportunity behind.”
Snelling had been in failing health, but Mark Snelling of Starksboro, one of her four children, said, “Barbara had a wonderful life.” Her funeral and burial will be private, but a public celebration of her life will be scheduled at a later date.