Tom Harty sporting his red fleece during the invocation.
On Wednesday, the state Senate convened for its opening session. Lawmakers dressed the part as they settled in for the big day. Then-Lt. Gov. Phil Scott prepared to preside over the chamber for the last time.
The first item on the agenda: an invocation from a person of the cloth.
Up bounded a gray-haired man in a bright red fleece jacket, Pastor Tom Harty of the United Church of Bethel. He apologized for his attire, and explained that he’s also an assistant medical examiner and that he’d just come from a call.
If that’s not an “Only in Vermont” moment, I don’t know what is.
But it gets better.
In a phone interview, Harty revealed that being a pastor slash medical examiner is merely the tip of the iceberg. “I’m also a licensed funeral director,” he said. “I help out people: hatching, matching and dispatching.”
But wait, there’s more.
“When I got out of high school, I went to Vermont Technical College in Randolph,” he explained. “I was in one of their first EMT [emergency medical technician] classes. My specialty became rescue. I teach people wilderness rescue. I’m a certified rappelling instructor.”
Courtesy of Tom Harty
Tom Harty: man of many hats
Harty was born in Bellows Falls. After he graduated from college, he became a Vermont state trooper, serving out of the Bethel barracks and settling in Randolph.
Eventually, he got involved in education by helping establish a criminal justice and safety program at the Randolph Technical Career Center. That led to a lengthy tenure as a high school teacher after he left the state police.
Okay, so how did he make the move to the ministry?
“I was attending the church, and we lost our minister,” Harty explained. This being a small church in a small town, hiring a new pastor is a challenge. “I filled in for a few Sundays, and somebody suggested I look into [the ministry].
“The United Church of Christ in Vermont had a program to prepare people for the ministry as a second career.” He took it, and became the pastor for real.
Well, sort of. “I’m a licensed minister in Vermont,” he said. “I’m not ordained. I can’t pick up and go to Wisconsin and be a minister.”
Courtesy of Tom Harty
Harty, right, soaking in a “Vermont hot tub” as he taught an ice rescue class.
This might all seem astonishingly random to most, but it makes perfect sense to Harty. “The thread through all of this is helping people,” he said. “The ministry is not that different than being a trooper.”
Aside from the gun, loud siren and speed trap side of things. “I considered myself a social worker as much as a law enforcement officer,” he explained.
Harty has been an assistant medical examiner for a couple of years, generally serving Orange and Windsor counties. “With my background in EMT, I was able to jump into it without a lot of training.”
Add it all up and you have a highly motivated, energetic individual with a strong drive to help people — the quick and the dead.
And you have an archetypal “Only in Vermont” moment. All we need is a cow and a covered bridge.
Or maybe not.
I interviewed Pastor Harty by phone from the Statehouse cafeteria. After we hung up, I noticed a middle-aged, mustachioed man looking at me. I explained how I’d just been talking to this amazing guy who’s a minister and medical examiner and all this other stuff. “Oh, yeah,” the man replied. “Tom Harty. We used to be milkmen together.”
He introduced himself. Joe Choquette, high-powered lobbyist for the law firm Downs Rachlin Martin. And former milkman.