On December 15, the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina published the obituary of a Texas woman named Renay Mandel Corren. I promise you, it's unlike any obit you've ever read. Here is the opening line: "A plus-sized Jewish lady redneck died in El Paso on Saturday."
Penned by the deceased's son Andy Corren, the obit was an unflinching, unfiltered and flat-out hilarious remembrance of "a Yankee Florida liberal Jewish Tough Gal." Renay "played cards like a shark, bowled and played cribbage like a pro, and laughed with the boys until the wee hours ... Hers was a bawdy, rowdy life lived large, broke and loud."
Within a day or so of its publication, Renay's riotous obit went viral. On Twitter, writer David Simon gushed, "This is first-rate writing on a life that sounds like a first-rate misadventure. I love the entire family and I miss a woman I don't think I ever met. Though who, given her meanderings, can be sure?"
It wasn't just the humor or the brutal honesty that made Renay's obit great. Threaded through the sassy recounting of a divorce, bankruptcies and jokes about an affair with Larry King — at least, we think they were jokes — was the unmistakable undercurrent of a family's profound affection for a woman whom they will miss deeply. Renay's obit wasn't just funny, it was also incredibly moving.
The Fayetteville Observer obit offers a fine example of how grief works differently for everyone. For some, it's overwhelming and dark. For others, it may be tender, bittersweet or even laugh-out-loud funny. How we mourn our loved ones is every bit as unique as we are. And as we remember those we've lost, they stay close to us.
You won't find an obit like Renay's in the following pages, but you will find remembrances of Vermonters who died this year, told to us by the people who knew them best with honesty, compassion, heart and even some humor. All lived singular and compelling lives, all were loved dearly, and all will be missed.
— Dan Bolles
Vicenta “Vickie” Farrales McClure
September 11, 1920-June 2, 2021
- Courtesy of Ryan McClure
- Vickie McClure
Quiet, particular and always impeccably dressed, Vickie McClure had a way of demanding outsize respect — at least, compared to her diminutive stature. "She was a special lady," said Priscilla Blais, an assistant property manager at Fern Hill, the retirement community in Burlington where McClure lived in her later years. "She could be a stubborn old lady," Blais continued, chuckling. "You had to treat her special because it was almost like she commanded that you do."
While McClure, who died in June of natural causes at age 100, could indeed be stubborn, she was also fiercely loyal and would go to great lengths to provide for and protect those she loved, particularly family.
"She could be very single-minded," explained her grandson Ryan McClure, "both in positive and negative ways at times."
Ryan, who grew up in Colchester and now lives in Johnson with his wife, Serena Vascik McClure, noted that few could hold a grudge as staunchly or for as long as his grandmother.
"If somebody rubbed her or someone in the family the wrong way, she would hold a grudge for years," he said.
If Vickie held herself and others to high standards, it was because she overcame so much in her own life. "She was determined to make the best life she could for my father and his father and my brother and I," Ryan said.
Vickie was born Vicenta Farrales in 1920 in a rural town in Zambales, a province of the Philippines. Her father was a local politician who also ran a family farm. Vickie and her four siblings worked on the farm from a young age into adulthood and would regularly walk miles to and from the nearest bigger town for supplies. It was a simple and peaceful existence — until war came.
In World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded the Philippines. Vickie's brother Hipolito fought against the Japanese in the Filipino army alongside the United States. He was captured and died in the Bataan Death March in 1942.
"She only started telling us about the war in the last few years," Ryan said.
- Courtesy of Ryan McClure
- Vickie McClure (bottom row, second from left) with family in the Philippines
During the war, Vickie, who was a talented seamstress but had no formal medical training, was brought in to care for patients at a local American military hospital. That's where she met a charming soldier from Burlington named Robert McClure, who also worked there.
"They met in passing a few times, and then he finally worked up the nerve to ask her out," Ryan said. "And that's how it started."
Vickie and Robert were married in the Philippines shortly after the war. In January 1948, Vickie gave birth to their only son, Will. They returned to the U.S. later that year and traveled by bus, with infant Will riding on their laps, from California to Vermont. They arrived in snowy Burlington on Christmas Day.
"I think it was quite a shock to her," Ryan said of Vickie's reaction to the weather.
But the cold wasn't the only, or even the harshest, challenge for Vickie. Though they eventually softened, Robert's parents were displeased that he had married a Filipino woman.
"It was pretty difficult for her, especially early," Ryan said.
Vickie found support in a local social group called the Overseas Wives Club, where she befriended other immigrant women in the area.
"It was a good means of support for her," Ryan said. Vickie became an American citizen in 1978.
A devout Christian, she also found comfort and community at the First United Methodist Church of Burlington. Her faith, Ryan explained, "gave her a sense of purpose."
But nothing mattered to Vickie more than her family. Robert was a postal worker for most of his life. Vickie earned money as a dressmaker and seamstress, working from their longtime home on North Prospect Street in Burlington. When she was able to travel back to the Philippines, she often brought money with her to give to relatives there.
"I remember her saying it was too dangerous to send money via mail because the corrupt officials would take it," Ryan said.
Vickie adored her son, Will, even if she didn't completely agree with his life choices, Ryan said. Will, who died in 2004, was a free spirit, musician and actor who didn't always follow a straight and narrow path.
"He could get into trouble and was not the most dependable guy at times," Ryan said of his father. "But she supported him through whatever difficulties that came up.
"There was a cultural barrier and an age gap, so she might not have always understood his passion for rock and roll music," he continued. "But she definitely wanted him to succeed."
- Courtesy of Ryan McClure
- Robert and Vickie McClure
Ryan explained that Vickie went to great lengths to provide for him and his brother, Kristopher, who now lives in Colchester with his wife and two children. He noted that, although Vickie was hardworking and serious about family, she also had a lighter side. She was a big fan of the Three Stooges comedians and, during the holidays, loved to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. She was also a fan of baseball and basketball — in particular, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 1990s.
Robert died in 1994. A few years later, Vickie moved to Fern Hill. As she had in the Overseas Wives Club and at church, she quickly found community at her new home.
"She was well liked and made friends easily," Blais said. She recalled Vickie's large and colorful wardrobe, most of which she made herself or received as gifts from former clients.
"She talked about how some of the women there would gossip about how she [seemed] to always have on a different outfit and speculated that she'd made a good amount of money selling her house," Ryan recalled. He added, "Most of [the money] went to helping my father out of a financial jam."
Her clothing, Blais said, gave Vickie a certain air of dignity: "She carried herself with elegance."
Fern Hill is also where Vickie met Cindy Leclair. For the last four years of Vickie's life, the Hinesburg woman volunteered as her caretaker and became one of her closest friends. Leclair would take her grocery shopping or out for pizza — though, true to form, not just any pizzeria would do.
"She loved eating Costco pizza," Leclair recalled, chuckling.
She echoed the sentiment that Vickie could be stubborn — she was especially fussy about food and rarely let anyone else cook for her, Leclair said. But she also confirmed Vickie's affection for her family and her sense of humor.
"She was a funny lady," Leclair said. "She really was something else."
Richard T. Kemp
October 12, 1932-September 28, 2021
- Courtesy of Christine Hughes
- Richard Kemp on the campaign trail
Richard Kemp never found himself near a microphone with nothing to say. Not that he needed one. Standing more than six feet tall, he had a booming voice that matched his stature. Its strength conveyed the power of his convictions whenever he spoke about the causes he pursued: more affordable housing, righting the injustices of the American prison system, the government's responsibility to take care of its most vulnerable citizens, and fixing racial and socioeconomic inequities at home and abroad.
Richard, who died in September at age 88, devoted his public, religious and personal life to social activism.
He was a founding member of the Peace & Justice Coalition in Burlington (now the Peace & Justice Center) and served on the board of the Champlain Housing Trust and the Burlington Community Justice Center — two of the many nonprofit groups with which he worked.
In Burlington, he became a familiar and consistent voice for economic and racial justice for more than 30 years. He was an early supporter of Bernie Sanders' successful campaign for Burlington mayor in 1981. Elected in 2001 as Burlington's first Black city council member, Kemp played a pivotal role in passing the city's livable wage ordinance during his one term. After he lost his reelection bid for city council, he ran unsuccessfully as a Progressive candidate for state representative in 2004 and lieutenant governor in 2008.
"His values, his commitment to social and economic reform, was all about moving the community and the country in a more progressive direction," said Peter Clavelle, a fellow Progressive who was Burlington's mayor during Richard's time on the city council and knew him for more than 40 years. "He was a strong voice, a booming voice, and he also made sure that he was part of the solution."
Those who knew him best said Richard was particularly proud of his efforts to lift up people in poverty across the globe. He collected medical textbooks and delivered them to a medical school in Ghana. He ran the Vermont Committee on South Africa as part of his stand against apartheid. In 1984, he helped establish Burlington's first sister city, Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua, and joined the subsequent "Peace Ship" voyage to bring aid and supplies to residents there. He traveled with other Champlain Housing Trust representatives to Angola in 2008 to accept the United Nations World Habitat Award, which recognized the local organization for its work in affordable housing.
In Richard's activism, socioeconomic justice was intertwined with racial justice.
"He communicated across racial lines, but he also represented the Black community as an African American man that just was a trailblazer in so many different ways," said Mark Hughes, founder of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and the husband of Richard's daughter Christine Hughes. Richard showed that "there is a path for Black folks in this community to make a significant impact and leave an indelible legacy."
Richard's oldest daughter, Kathleen Kemp, said she always pictures her father gripping a clipboard, stopping passersby on Church Street to ask them to sign a petition or register to vote. "He had some line or some conversation starter that he would offer people, and it was always around being active and being part of the community," she said. "And he would talk to anyone."
Even the wheelchair Richard used at Birchwood Terrace Rehabilitation and Healthcare before his death carried a sign on the back with the message "Vote," Christine Hughes said.
For nearly 20 years, Richard hosted an interview show, "Near and Far," on public-access Channel 17 (CCTV). He featured politicians and activists and introduced his viewers to such far-flung social justice issues as labor abuses in the global chocolate industry.
At the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, he sat on the social action committee and rarely missed an opportunity to share his ideas, said Gene Bergman and Wendy Coe, fellow UU members and longtime friends. "One of the things he would really do for us at the UU is challenge our values," Bergman said. "He would say we need to put our money where our mouth is."
For example, Richard often prodded the church's leadership — unsuccessfully — to turn one of its rental properties into housing for newly released prisoners. He also argued for divestment from South Africa while it was under apartheid.
Born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn, Richard was one of six kids in a Catholic home. He attended Catholic schools, and the church inspired his social activism; he was particularly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement and its anti-poverty and anti-war work. He spent more than a year at a seminary in upstate New York but decided the monastic life wasn't for him, according to Journey North: The Life of Richard Kemp, a book he self-published with writer Katherine Nopper in 2012.
In the 1950s, Richard worked for Friendship House, a Catholic organization that addressed homelessness and poverty in New York City. There, he met his wife, Frances, a white woman from Maine, who shared his commitment to nonviolent activism.
- Courtesy of Gillian Randall
- Richard Kemp
From an early age, his daughters heard political discussions at home among their parents and their parents' friends. Their father campaigned for Shirley Chisholm in 1968, when she became the first African American woman elected to Congress, and he traveled to Washington, D.C., to hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
Outside of politics, Richard worked his way through a series of jobs — shipping clerk at a paper mill, supervisor at a Job Corps career training center for teens, cafeteria manager at IBM — and moved the family to towns in Massachusetts and upstate New York. In West Brookfield, Mass., the Kemps lived on 32 acres, where they kept a sheep, chickens and bees and produced much of their own food. Richard ground fresh peanut butter with his own honey for sandwiches that his kids would take to school on their mother's baked bread.
In 1973, IBM transferred Richard to its plant in Essex Junction, where he worked in the human resources department for 18 years. He and his wife raised their six children in Burlington's New North End.
A bumper sticker on their refrigerator carried one of Richard's favorite mantras: "Question authority." Despite that conviction and his service as an Army draftee during the Korean War, he was a lifelong pacifist. From his city council seat, he opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He took a calm, thoughtful approach to confrontations of all kinds, including racist ones, his daughters said. Not long after the family moved to Vermont, they set up a booth at a craft show to sell jewelry, stained glass and candles that they had made. As they were leaving the event, a drunk man approached and started calling their father names, telling him to "go back to Africa," Kathleen Kemp said.
The Kemp kids thought their dad should have punched the guy, Christine Hughes said, but he called over a police officer instead. "You don't solve stuff with violence," she said of her father's beliefs. "You don't fight. You figure it out."
Laura Solomon, Richard's companion for 20 years after he and his wife divorced, said she witnessed many times his ability to diffuse tension. Once, on a trip to another city, the interracial couple was holding hands on a stroll and encountered a man who scowled his disapproval.
Instead of avoiding the person, Richard walked directly up to the man and stuck out his hand, introducing himself. They ended up chatting, Solomon said.
"His inclination was to approach and disarm the situation," she said. "He had a personal sense and a confidence that he could handle the situation and it would turn out OK, and it usually did turn out OK."
In the 1990s, Richard became one of the earliest residents at the Flynn Avenue Housing Cooperative, an affordable housing complex run by the Champlain Housing Trust. He attended the housing trust's ceremony for the 2019 opening of its new Kemp House, a home where former inmates can transition to live independently — one of the causes Richard championed most strongly.
"I just feel that the fact that you may be an ex-criminal, that you maybe made a mistake ... that shouldn't keep you from getting housing or a job or be[ing] accepted in our community," he is quoted as saying on the trust's website.
His work has inspired the Richard Kemp Center, a project of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance now under development in the Old North End to support and empower the city's communities of color.
"His superhero social-justice legacy, I think, we've got to memorialize that," Hughes, who is spearheading the new center, said of Richard.
A memorial service for Richard is scheduled for June 18 at the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Burlington.
The day before Richard died, Hughes went to his father-in-law's bedside with his wife. Richard took Hughes' hand and squeezed it, like a "bear grip," he said. Richard's voice had weakened, and Hughes could barely make out the elder man's words.
"Don't quit," Hughes heard him say.
For more information about the June 18 memorial or to share stories about Richard Kemp for a future scrapbook the family is assembling, contact [email protected].
— Carolyn Shapiro
December 12,1942-August 17, 2021
- Courtesy of the Garrett family
- David Garrett
In a big yellow barn on Thompson's Point Road in Charlotte, David Garrett worked on two of his great interests and talents: making furniture and developing luxury hotels. His two vocations come together in a piece that stands in the 1790s barn at Cedar Farm, where David lived for 40 years.
The piece — a stellar display of creativity and craftsmanship — is a wine cellar cabinet crafted from dogwood twigs, corks, walnut, hickory and butternut. Six doors on the lower section are each inlaid with a painting — Adirondack Park landscapes in the Hudson River School style that together form a bucolic scene.
The cabinet holds more than 400 bottles of wine and was used at New York's Lake Placid Lodge, one of the resort properties David owned and developed. Now it's at home with the family of its creator, and it's a piece that David especially loved, his daughter Caitrin said. (View his furniture at corkiture.com.)
More of his eye-catching work fills the high-ceilinged room at the end of the barn. It includes a section of a Japanese elm tree that he stripped of bark one summer to create a wonderful sculpture. David seemed to find inspiration every place he looked: He used a log that was shaped by a beaver's gnawing to construct the base of a table; he built a tree house for his grandchildren around an oak tree in his yard. The tree rises through the middle of the ground-level structure.
"No matter what David put his hand to, he could do it well," said Christie Garrett, his wife of 53 years.
"What impressed me when I first met him [was], so many people say, 'Someday, I'm going to do this,'" Christie, 75, said. "And David would actually do it."
David died at his home on August 17 at age 78. He contracted a breakthrough COVID-19 infection, and the virus precipitated his death from heart failure, according to his family.
- Courtesy of the Garrett family
- David Garrett at the Adirondack cabin he built
David was born in New York City and grew up in Westchester County. As a boy, he was enamored with Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone and their outdoor adventures. His childhood love of the outdoors stayed with him throughout his life. It inspired a project he embarked on more than half a century ago — an endeavor dear to his heart that would engage him until his death: building a cabin in the Adirondacks at a site accessible by a three-mile walk.
David and Christie were not yet married when they rode on his Suzuki motorcycle from New York City to the Adirondacks looking for land. They found the right spot deep in the woods near Moriah, N.Y., the spring before their September 1968 marriage.
David cut down trees to clear the site and used the logs to build his cabin. Over time, he added to it — a kitchen, a fireplace, a bedroom, another bedroom — to accommodate his and Christie's growing family. Together, they raised three daughters; their six grandchildren are aged 5 to 21.
In 1980, David was working as a stockbroker when he and Christie celebrated their wedding anniversary at the Point, a lodge on Upper Saranac Lake that was once a Rockefeller home. Built a century ago, the Point features 11 guest rooms and communal dining.
"You fall into its spell very easily," Christie said.
On that anniversary weekend, David told Christie that if the Point were ever for sale, he'd buy it. The Garretts returned to the Point for their anniversary for the next several years. In 1985, the owner told them the property was for sale.
True to his word, David purchased it. "It was a bargain," Christie said.
And so began David's transition from stockbroker to hotelier, with a specialty in conceiving and developing high-end hotels and lodges. He and Christie were partners in the endeavor. She has a design background and managed the details; he envisioned the overarching concepts.
"He just thought he'd figure it out," said his oldest daughter, artist Erin Garrett-Metz. "And he did. He figured out how to do it in the best way."
David was an artist and a maker. Envisioning lodging places and developing the experience of staying there was a form of creation.
"He had a need to constantly be creating something," Garrett-Metz explained. "A hotel, a piece of furniture, a book."
The book she's referring to is the one the Garretts produced as a kind of high-end brochure about the Point — a pre-internet marketing tool. (David would make books to describe other properties he went on to develop, too.)
The hardcover book, The Point, was mailed to people who called to inquire about the lodge on a peninsula in Upper Saranac Lake.
"Visiting us is rather different from staying at an inn or resort," the front page reads; "it is more like joining old friends for a house party in the woods."
- Courtesy of the Garrett family
- Oil portrait of David Garrett painted by his daughter, Erin Garrett-Metz
While David's particular skill and interest was in conceptualizing a place, he also had a hand in its day-to-day workings. For example, after the Garretts bought the Point, they needed a chef for its kitchen.
"The food has to be better," he told Christie. "I'm going to figure it out. I'll make some calls."
So he called the owner of Le Cirque in New York City. When that cold call didn't yield a chef, David moved on to Albert Roux, a Michelin-starred chef in London. That call led to both a friendship with Roux and a pipeline of employees, Christie said.
About a decade after the Garretts bought the Point, they purchased another property in the Adirondacks, Lake Placid Lodge. As they were overseeing structural renovations, David decided to try his hand at making furniture.
He pointed to a pair of dressers and told Christie, "'I'm going to take two of these back'" to his workshop, she recalled. "'I think I can make them look better.'"
Every challenge was an opportunity for David, not an obstacle, his son-in-law, Andrew Metz, said.
"I loved that sentiment about him," Metz said.
In Vermont, David helped develop Twin Farms, a luxury resort in Barnard. John Graham, managing partner of Twin Farms, in an email called David "one of the pioneers of the boutique luxury segment, a kind and generous man who knew and traveled the world, but also knew his neighbor. He loved great art and was an amazing artist himself. He cared."
In 2010, the Garretts reshaped their business from acquiring properties to consulting on the creation and development of luxury hotels and resorts.
"We realized that what we really loved about the business was creating beautiful hotels," Christie explained. "We wanted to help other people who were getting into the business."
Garrett Hotel Consultants is a family business in which Christie is president and cofounder, youngest daughter Caitrin is COO, and Erin is a writer. Middle daughter Moriah works in marketing for the Ivy Hotel in Baltimore. Her husband, Rob Arthur, is the Ivy's general manager.
David's daughters also carry on their father's work making things with their hands. Caitrin's Burlington home is furnished with pieces she built with her father. Erin renovated her family's 19th-century house near Boston.
In the barn in Charlotte is a portrait Erin painted in oil of her father. He's sitting outside the cabin in the Adirondacks that he began building more than 50 years ago. The colors are muted, and the fall light is warm. The artwork is a collaboration: David made the wooden frame.
"He was always all about family," Caitrin said. "Always."
— Sally Pollak
May 12, 1984-August 19, 2021
- Courtesy of Luke Awtry Photography
- Tommy Wheeler
No matter what, Tommy Wheeler told it like it was. Friends and family of the chef, bartender and DJ described him as honest and direct, above all else. And he expected the same from others.
"I remember him saying something like, 'You know, it's OK to not be OK,'" recalled Tommy's best friend, Nikolai Sears, of the night they met in 2002 as first-year students at the University of Vermont. They cried in front of each other that night, Sears said, and forged a lasting connection.
"He was a really wonderful listener ... I think people really felt comfortable opening up to him," said Tommy's sister, Mary Wheeler.
A recognizable member of Burlington's nightlife and hospitality sectors, Tommy was the kind of person who liked to take care of others. But he struggled to take care of himself and to get help for his alcohol addiction and mental health issues. His ongoing struggle with alcohol eventually led to massive organ failure. He died on August 19, at the age of 37, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock medical center.
Mary said she didn't want to conceal the circumstances of Tommy's death.
"Most people are going to see someone passing at 37 ... and be kind of curious," she said. "He was so much about honesty and being up front; I don't think it's something to hide."
Mary said she knew early in her brother's life that he would never have a typical, nine-to-five career, but he was "always doing really cool things." As a child, he collected cans for redemption and manicured neighbors' lawns, showing industrious, entrepreneurial tendencies that he would carry into his adult life.
Growing up in Putney, the siblings started a small but "pretty legitimate" business making and selling paraffin-dipped autumn leaves, Mary recalled. With practically no overhead, they pulled in more income than expected — too much for an unlicensed business, which led to the startup's downfall.
After attending high school in Brattleboro, Tommy moved to Burlington in 2002 to study political science at UVM. Sears, who would eventually become Tommy's roommate, recalled meeting him at an outdoor drum circle.
Tommy "probably wouldn't want anyone to know [that]," Sears joked. He described college-age Tommy as something of a neo-hippie, always sporting a bandanna on his head.
In 2004, during his sophomore year, Tommy was instrumental in reviving the annual "420 rally" on the UVM campus, a protest and smoke-in for cannabis legalization. Both Tommy and Sears were arrested during the April 20 demonstration for allegedly rallying students to participate in the action, which wasn't officially sanctioned. The American Civil Liberties Union represented the pair in their suit against the college for alleged violation of their First Amendment rights. In the resulting settlement, UVM paid each of the two students $7,500.
After graduating, Tommy went west and lived briefly in San Francisco and Portland, Ore. Sears said he got the impression that the West Coast mentality "didn't really vibe with him."
Tommy returned to Burlington in the early 2010s and embedded himself in the city's restaurant and bar circuit. He managed the Thai restaurant Pacific Rim Asian Café (now defunct), tended bar at the Half Lounge (also closed) under its original ownership, and was integral to Taco Gordo's food-stand and pop-up business years before the taqueria got a brick-and-mortar home.
"He was incredible at bringing people together," said Charlie Sizemore, owner of Taco Gordo. "He was one of the most empathetic people I've ever met in my life."
Sizemore said he met his longtime girlfriend at Pop Rap Dance Party, a recurring hootenanny that Tommy cohosted with his DJ partner, Jory Reeves. They set up shop at Half Lounge, which Reeves' parents owned, and toured their event around to other watering holes in the Queen City during the mid-2010s.
Reeves looked back fondly on the beautiful chaos the two created. Their sets weren't typical DJ fare, he explained.
"We were kind of making a mockery of deejaying," he said. "It actually pissed off a lot of DJs."
The pair eschewed seamless mixing and transition between songs — a practice that many DJs pride themselves on and see as essential to the craft. Tommy and Reeves didn't use a professional outboard DJ mixer. Instead, they opted for a laptop and a free online platform called Two YouTube Videos and a Motherfucking Crossfader Dot Com (which is a perfect description of the program's functionality).
"We were just hosting a party and were like, 'Song selection is all that matters, and having fun,'" Reeves said. He noted that the pair loved to make "crude and fucked-up transitions" and sometimes played songs over and over on a single night, another intentional DJ faux pas.
Besides being a DJ, Tommy was a poet, participating in readings and creating zines. Sears said that not enough of his writing saw the light of day, and that Tommy destroyed some of his own work.
In Tommy's social circle, heavy drinking and partying were par for the course. But, as time passed, Tommy's friends had to reckon with his evident addiction. Sears said Tommy's drinking went beyond the usual social lubrication.
"It was a romance for him," he said.
Sizemore recalled the dilemma that Tommy's friends faced. "He [could] be introspective about his drinking, but not in a way that [he] had any plans on changing," he said. "If [they're] not destroying everything around you, it's hard to step in and tell somebody that they need to stop."
Like many people who are dealing with addiction, Tommy kept his dependency under wraps. For reasons not fully understood by those closest to him, he never found the help he needed.
"The addiction and mental health system is so complicated, and it's so overwhelming, it's hard to know where to get help," Mary said. "There's still a lot of shame with mental health and addiction. Maybe people are ashamed to say, 'I need help.'''
— Jordan Adams
Brenda Churchill Flint
July 1, 1977-October 15, 2021
- Courtesy of the Flint family
- Brenda Flint with her Disney World race medals in 2017
Tina Churchill often knew when her sister Brenda Flint had been out for a walk or a run. Afterward, Brenda might call or text her younger sister and say, "I've been thinking...," Tina recalled. Even when doing long race training runs, she chose silence over music. "She told me that was her thinking time," Tina said.
Midmorning on October 15, Brenda headed out on one of her several daily walks and runs on Brookfield's Churchill Road, the dirt road where she was born and had lived her whole life. But that day Brenda didn't call Tina after her walk.
Within a mile of their childhood home and the tidy, shingled house where Brenda lived with her husband and teenage daughter, a car hit and killed the 44-year-old. According to the Vermont State Police, the accident investigation remains active and involves the Orange County state's attorney's office.
The news rippled immediately through the tight-knit community. Churchills have farmed in Brookfield for 80 years, and Tina, Brenda and their older sister, Amy Ferris, grew up on the family's small Jersey cow dairy. They had to learn how to milk before they could get their driver's licenses. Brenda, who was an accountant, still loved to help with haying and sugaring.
After serving as a town auditor for six years, in July 2021 Brenda ran for a two-year term on the Brookfield Selectboard and won. It was a leap for someone who was far more comfortable crunching numbers behind the scenes than speaking in front of people. "She was always quiet," her mother, Lora Churchill, said. As a child, "she didn't talk out in public for quite a while, but she paid attention."
After thorough consideration, Brenda decided to run for office because she thought she could help. "She wanted to bring an open mind to the table, to discuss things and work together for the town, not for herself," said Dennis LaRocque, a fellow auditor and selectboard member. He called her death "a tremendous loss to the community."
It also devastated her colleagues within the Vermont State Colleges System, where she had worked for the last 13 years, most recently as the controller for Vermont Technical College and the Community College of Vermont. She was an alumna of VTC and Johnson State College. A memorial scholarship at VTC has received more than $50,000 in donations.
Joyce Twing, professor and chair of VTC's Business Technology & Management department, taught and later worked with Brenda. The honors student stood out from the moment Twing saw the perfect math scores on her college application. Twing also came to appreciate Brenda's work ethic and attitude. "Some people who are smart, they want everybody to know that they're smart. Brenda wasn't like that," Twing recalled. "Brenda was humble. She was a helper."
When Brenda was working at the VSCS chancellor's office, a new system-wide payroll system proved challenging. "Even Jesus couldn't have figured it out," Twing said. Brenda could, though. Twing's former student was able and happy to answer all her questions. "I know Brenda did that for a lot of people," she said.
"Brenda was really indispensable to [VSCS]," said Chris Black, who trained Brenda in 2008 for her VTC job and was a longtime family friend. "No matter how busy she was, when anybody came to her office or called her with a question, she always had a smile and plenty of time to answer," Black said. "It was like you were the priority."
- Courtesy of Ben Deflorio Photography
- Brenda Flint (left) and her daughter, Samantha
For family and close friends, the tragedy left a gaping hole. Brenda married Paul Flint in 2000, and their daughter, Samantha, was born in 2005. Paul was a few years ahead of Brenda at Randolph Union High School, but they didn't start dating until after college when they connected at a bluegrass festival in Brookfield.
"They were just smitten with each other," her mother said. "You could look at them and see what love looks like," Tina added. The couple was very close to their daughter and especially treasured annual summer trips to Maine.
Within her tight inner circle, Brenda was the person who organized everyday gatherings and milestone events, baked professional-quality cakes for every celebration, created family photo albums and genealogical trees, and planned excursions and surprises. And she was always there to listen and advise.
"She was my rock," said Tina, detailing how Brenda supported her after a serious car accident and through several miscarriages before she had her son on October 2.
When Amy's daughter was diagnosed with leukemia more than a decade ago, Brenda immediately set about researching the disease and suggesting questions for the doctors.
"Whatever Brenda was attacking, whether for work, for the town or for family, she was always very thoughtful about it, would research it and look at all sides," Amy said.
Brenda also knew how to have fun. She was a passionate fan of quarterback Tom Brady, the Duke University men's basketball team, country music and mini things, including Easy-Bake Ovens and her collection of airplane liquor bottles.
Her often whimsical, meticulously executed surprises for friends and family were legendary. Amy recalled one March when her sister frosted Cheerios, dusted them with sprinkles, boxed up the tiny doughnut doppelgängers and delivered them to coworkers as "leprechaun treats."
For the 40th birthday of her close friend Julie Concha, Brenda showed up unannounced before dawn at her Bethel home with a light-up flamingo, a big sign and several more flamingos. "She had staked out my house before, so she could make a plan," Concha said. "She'd brought an extension cord and knew where to plug it in."
To Carol Ladabouche, another longtime friend, she sent birthday cookies that were decorated with a cringe-worthy eighth-grade photo of Ladabouche, without a card. "That was just like Brenda not to take credit for it," Ladabouche said with a laugh.
Ladabouche and Tina were Brenda's frequent race companions since she resolved a dozen years ago to get into shape in order to keep up with her daughter. Brenda started by training for a fundraiser 5K organized by the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, where her niece was being treated for leukemia. She gradually worked her way up to half marathons, a spartan race and even a triathlon.
"Brenda never announced that she was going to start concentrating on exercise and having that be a priority in her life," Ladabouche said. "She was steadfast and determined and just did it."
In 2017, Brenda checked off a major goal when she traveled with Tina and Samantha to Florida for what is now called the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. The three ran the 5K together in matching capes that Brenda had bought. Then Tina and Samantha cheered Brenda on in the 10K and half marathon.
Ladabouche recalled a different kind of race highlight that epitomized her friend. A few years ago, the two were part of a six-person team doing the 100 on 100 Relay from Stowe to Ludlow. Brenda was on deck to run the final leg. "She had these huge blisters on her feet that would have brought down any strong human being," said Ladabouche. "But she got them wrapped, shoved them into her shoes and brought us home."
— Melissa Pasanen
William “Bill” Andrew James
July 5, 1911-October 24, 2021
- Well past his century mark, Bill enjoyed riding in a 1968 Triumph Spitfire at Bristol’s Fourth of July parade.
Ten years ago, Ted Lylis was driving down Fitch Avenue in Bristol when he saw a man who appeared to be adjusting an antenna on the garage roof of Bill James' house. As Lylis got closer, he saw that it was Bill himself, his great uncle, who happened to be 100 years old. Alarmed, Lylis pulled into Bill's driveway. "Bill, come down from there," he yelled. "No one wants to see you up there!"
"You can't tell me what to do!" Bill replied in an aggrieved voice.
Lylis got in his car, drove the short distance to his home and immediately began phoning several of Bill's many relatives in Bristol. Ted's eyewitness account triggered a family intervention, and the centenarian was persuaded to return to terra firma. Lylis expected repercussions and was not disappointed.
"It was a long time before Bill talked to me again!" said Lylis.
William "Bill" Andrew James was born in Lincoln on July 5, 1911. And he died there on October 24, 2021, leaving an indelible imprint on his town, his friends and his family. He was 110 years old, according to the calendar, but that measure seemed deficient. Better you should cut him in half, like a tree, and count the rings; such were his roots and stature in the town.
In his time on Earth, he was an electrician, town selectman, member of the rescue squad and parade marshal. He supported many local organizations financially, including the Bristol Historical Society.
At age 102, he appeared in a series of TV ads for a local car dealership, growling at the camera like a Halloween bogeyman. The ads went viral in Vermont.
"He loved that, and he became even more popular," Lylis said. "He could be the center of attention."
Of course, Bill couldn't stay mad with his great-nephew for long, as the younger man knew. Bill had a car crush on Lylis' classic 1968 Triumph Spitfire, and Lylis had invited Bill to ride in it in Bristol's Fourth of July parade — thus creating a human "Antiques Roadshow." Modest in stature, Bill looked outsize in the two-seat, pale-yellow sports car, so Lylis stuck a large key on the boot to complete the windup-toy effect. It was a smash hit.
For 75 years, Bill belonged to the Masons, but he was just as diligent in attending meetings of the Old Farts Club at Cubbers Restaurant — until he was the only one left at the table. He outlived everyone, including his beloved Mabel Jeanette Lucia James, who died in 2009, almost a year after she and Bill had marked their 63rd wedding anniversary.
- To the dismay of family members, Bill regularly worked on the roof of his home.
When they met, Mabel had been working at the Kennedy Brothers woodcraft factory in Bristol and was a frequent patron at the local barn dances. One evening, seeking company, Bill walked into the barn — "I mean, he walked all the way from Lincoln to Bristol, four miles there and four miles back," said son-in-law John Teer. Mabel and Bill were married on New Year's Eve in 1945.
Bill tried to enlist in the armed services during World War II but was given a deferment. "He told me the military doctors said he had some type of heart murmur and felt his heart would not be strong enough for military service," said Joelle Muggeo, his granddaughter.
Bill was born in Lincoln — three years before the start of World War I. When he was a young boy, his parents divorced, and he moved to a farm in West Lincoln, where he was raised by his grandfather William York and York's second wife, Emma. Electric service came to the farm in the late 1920s, and Bill was sufficiently impressed with the invention to go to work for Central Vermont Public Service, which has since merged with Green Mountain Power.
During his long career as a line worker for CVPS, Bill "never rode up in a bucket," preferring to climb the utility poles, said Teer, his son-in-law. He added that his father-in-law "had two close calls," including once when a stirrup broke, causing him to fall and get "banged up." As for the other...
"Well, they turned the power on by mistake while he was up top," Teer recalled.
Fortunately, Bill had the presence of mind to throw a metal safety chain across the wires, triggering a circuit breaker. He finally did go up in a bucket — to mark his 100th birthday.
Bill's values were consistently old school, said Muggeo. Once, a visiting great-grandson had scattered his many toys around Bill's house, and the boy's parents were frantically clearing the minefield, lest Bill trip over them. Bill looked amused. "When I got bored as a boy," he explained to the child, "my grandpa gave me a hammer and a bucket of nails and said, 'Here, have some fun.'''
Bill stayed mentally sharp well beyond his century mark.
"One day, when he was about 105, he announced, 'We are going for a ride,' and he directed us up through Lincoln," Muggeo recalled. "He still knew all of the back roads, like he had just driven them a week ago."
During the ride, he called for a stop and pointed out where on the mountain he'd lived with his grandfather. "Now, mind you, that was over 100 years ago," Muggeo continued. "He felt joy by remembering it."
His last years were filled with testimonials and nostalgia trips. On July 5, 2020 — Bill's 109th birthday — the town threw him a parade. Virtually all of Bristol passed by his house, honking horns and shouting congratulations. Muggeo sat by his side.
A couple of years before, Bill gave her his Masons ring, she said. "I told him I didn't want it, and he should keep it. He told me he wanted to give me something to remember him." She looked at him in awe, she said. "I don't need anything to remember."
Not long before Bill died, he asked to be driven across the Lake Champlain Bridge, where he acted as grand marshal when the rebuilt span opened in 2011, according to Teer. "Bill is rumored to have gone out with a pilot buddy of his and flown under the old bridge," he added. They drove across to Crown Point, N.Y., and then back to Vermont, stopping for a creemee in Vergennes.
In the spring of 2021, Bill let everyone know that he wasn't going to change the battery in his pacemaker when it failed, and no one else should, either. His niece, Mary Fleming, went to see him and bring him muffins — which Bill called cupcakes.
"He said he was afraid he wouldn't see me again. And he was crying," Fleming recalled. "I put my arms around him and said, 'When we meet again, we'll probably be young. And there won't be any more pain.'
"And then he smiled."
Arturo “Arthur” Torres
May 17, 1976-October 23, 2021
- Courtesy of Emily Glick
- Arthur Torres and Emily Glick
If there was one place Arthur Torres was happiest, it was before a captive audience. Whether posting flyers for a fake parade on Burlington's Church Street just to see who would gather, or at the center of a speed-chess tournament, or simply telling one of his countless stories to a rapt crowd, Arthur reveled in human interaction.
"His enjoyment was other people," his friend Lydia Sanders summed up.
Friends nicknamed Arthur "the Mayor of Burlington," and for years he was a familiar sight in the Church Street Marketplace, cruising in his battered motorized wheelchair accompanied by his dog Nori.
Arthur had lived with multiple sclerosis since 2000 and, more recently, with a second disorder, myotonic muscular dystrophy. He began using a wheelchair in 2011, but he never bemoaned his physical ills, and he lived life to its limits despite them, his friends and family say.
Insatiably curious, Arthur enjoyed everything from Alfred Hitchcock movies to televangelists. Forever mischievous, he once showed up at a speed-chess match in full drag in an attempt to psych out his opponent. An avid traveler, he flew all over the world and often tried to finagle upgrades to hotel suites and first-class airplane seats.
"He had an amazing ability to walk into any room and get people interested in him," friend and chess partner Ron Stewart of Burlington said. The two bonded over classic '90s video games, long car rides to chess tournaments and musing about life.
"He lived life on his own terms," Stewart said. "There's a lot to respect with him."
Arthur made friends everywhere, said Sanders, who met him by chance at Muddy Waters in 1997. Arthur remembered people's names and knew the badge ID of every bus driver in Burlington. Sanders recalled walking into one of Arthur's favorite haunts, Foam Brewers, only to find him surrounded by people he had never met. But they became his friends, Sanders said, "and then they were your friends, too."
Born and raised in the Bronx, Arthur was a gifted, hyperactive child who felt misunderstood and sometimes even rejected by his family, according to his wife, Emily Glick. New York City felt claustrophobic to him.
He often described himself as a "toon," one of the animated characters who lived alongside real people in one of his favorite movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He sought a space where he could be his zany, unencumbered self, and he found that when he came to Burlington in the 1990s.
"In New York, anyone can do anything, and nobody notices," Glick said. But Vermont is different. "People appreciated and valued his quirkiness, especially in Burlington. He just really felt recognized." He considered Vermont home, even after he and Glick moved to Oregon in 2019, where Glick, a physician, had gotten a new job. His friends say Arthur never stopped missing Vermont.
- Courtesy of Emily Glick
- Arthur Torres and Emily Glick
Arthur met Glick when she was 18 and fresh out of high school. Young and rebellious, they embarked on a summer fling but then parted. Four years later, Arthur looked her up again and persuaded her to leave New York City and join him in Burlington.
Sanders remembers Arthur telling her the news. He showed up weeping during a party at her apartment — the only time she saw him cry — and announced that Glick was moving to Burlington to be with him.
"And he just kept saying 'I found her, I found her,'" Sanders recalled. "It was beautiful."
While Emily completed her medical residency in Burlington, Arthur held a variety of odd jobs, including a factory position at Magic Hat Brewing and one notorious stint as a Price Chopper cashier. Disillusioned by the lack of sick time for employees and cajoled into a bet with a friend, Arthur set out to get fired from the store. Instead, after he dramatically fell to the floor and made a scene for the security cameras, the store offered him a position in loss prevention.
Though he much preferred Arthur, his given name was Arturo — a connection to his Cuban grandmother, Julieta. Though she spoke very little English, and Arthur very little Spanish, they remained close until she died a decade ago. Glick fondly recalled late nights around Julieta's table in the Bronx, as she seared a steak for her grandson at 1 a.m.
Eventually, Arthur foreswore steaks. He became a passionate vegan after learning about the environmental costs and abuses of factory farming. Sanders' sister, July Sanders, is also a vegan. She and Arthur planned destination trips based on food — to a restaurant in Texas he'd read about, or to a vegan place in Greece. For years, Arthur had his favorite vegan gumbo shipped to him from Louisiana.
Arthur had a passion for travel — and for working the system to win airline points for trips abroad. A Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite member, Arthur was such a frequent traveler that pilots recognized him on his regular routes. Glick estimated that Arthur left behind close to 650,000 reward miles.
He especially loved his vacations to island destinations in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, where he reveled in poolside cocktails, exotic meals and swims in the ocean. Arthur kept bracelets from all-inclusive resorts long after returning home, wearing them down to filthy pieces of fabric. He claimed he held on to them in case he returned. He was wearing one when he died.
Though Arthur's diseases limited him more each year, he didn't dwell on the abilities he had lost. Instead, he never stopped finding new ways to thrive. When getting dressed became difficult, Arthur turned to nudism, forgoing clothes when he could. When he could no longer ride a bike, the passionate cyclist learned to love swimming. When his hands became too shaky to move chess pieces, he quit playing, and he and Glick read aloud famous chess opening and closing sequences.
Glick and Arthur were on vacation on the West Coast when he died on October 23. He had struggled with respiratory issues and urinary tract infections as a result of his illnesses, but his exact cause of death is unknown.
As she reminisced about Arthur this month, Lydia Sanders recalled the time Arthur invited her to dinner only to reveal a list of addresses on a crumpled sheet of paper he had found on the street. He wanted to send a letter to every one of the addresses. His hands were too weak to write then, so he needed her help. He couldn't pass up the opportunity to share himself with someone new and possibly make a friend. Arthur, his wife and friends agreed, was not the sort of person you forget.
"He's just a good human experiment for how to unapologetically be yourself," July Sanders said. "And succeed at that."
— Hattie Lindert
Susan Fay Smith
January 26, 1944-January 4, 2021
- Courtesy of Joya Smithayer
- Susan Smith reading with Nikki
Susan Smith had a soft voice, but she didn't need to speak loudly to make herself clear. In the mid-1970s, she was one of the first woman residents in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
During a rotation in Plattsburgh, N.Y., she found herself in a late-night surgery with a male anesthesiologist who kept putting his arm around her. When she got tired of telling him to stop, Susan, a black belt in karate, threw him to the floor. He never put his arm around her again.
"Susan was maybe five-foot-one," said her former partner, Carol Thayer, who was in medical school at UVM when she first met Susan. By the time Thayer started doing rotations in Plattsburgh, several years after Susan flattened the anesthesiologist, the story had become legend. But Susan, who had moved to Sweden in her twenties to avoid funding the Vietnam War with her tax dollars, preferred a gentler narrative.
"Susan would always say, 'I did not flip him,'" Thayer remembered. "'I simply laid him on the ground.'"
Susan had a penchant for understatement, especially when it came to her own accomplishments. When people at parties asked her what she did for a living, Thayer said, Susan would usually respond: "I work with my hands."
Later, as she became more established, her obstetrics patients would recognize her on the streets of Burlington. "People would run up to Susan and say, 'You delivered my baby!'" said Glo Daley, Susan's partner and caretaker in the last decade and a half of her life. "And she always said, 'You delivered your baby. I was just there to catch it.'"
For more than 20 years, Susan worked quietly and humbly to empower her patients. As a mentor to other women in medicine and as a mother, she was generous and unflappable; she also loved making stir-fries and driving a stick shift. On January 4, she died peacefully with Daley at her bedside, after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. She was 76.
Susan, the second oldest of four children, was born in San Francisco and grew up in Minnesota and upstate New York. Her father moved the family for his job as a hospital administrator and to care for his parents, Thayer said, and Susan never felt rooted in any particular place. She excelled in school — she was valedictorian of her graduating class — but she didn't have many close friends.
"She was kind of a rebel," Thayer said. "Her parents were very proud of her, but they weren't very supportive of her being a lesbian."
As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Susan moved to Sweden to protest the war in Vietnam.
After three years, Susan returned to the U.S. to complete her undergraduate degree at Michigan, where she later attended medical school. When she finally came to Burlington in 1976, for her residency at UVM Medical Center, she knew she'd found home.
Thayer and Susan raised four children — Emma, now 31; Joya, 30; Raina, 27; and Willy, 25. In 1991, they bought a house on Hoover Street in the South End. Their neighborhood was a small metropolis of lesbian couples who worked in health care, and Joya remembers a near-constant stream of kids flowing from one house to another.
"Community was so important to my mother," said Joya, who now lives in Salt Lake City. "She wanted us to have roots."
Deborah Kutzko, one of Susan's closest friends and her next-door neighbor on Hoover Street, said that at one point Joya and Kutzko's daughter, Rebecca, proposed the construction of a sky bridge to connect their two bedrooms. (The parents vetoed this suggestion, citing concerns about resale value.)
When her children were younger, Susan volunteered to teach a six-week course at the Schoolhouse learning center in South Burlington, where Emma and Joya attended kindergarten through sixth grade. She led a workshop on making stilts. "How did she even get into stilts? I have no idea," Joya said. "I wish I'd asked her these things, because she never talked about herself."
In the late 1990s, when Joya was in elementary school, Susan began wearing a bulletproof vest to work, after an abortion provider was shot and killed in Buffalo, N.Y.
"It was just there, on a bench by the doorway," recalled Thayer, who separated from Susan in the early 2000s. "She'd put it on when she left in the morning and take it off when she got home at night. She was very matter-of-fact about it, like it was just something she had to do."
With her patients, Susan took a similarly direct approach. "She would sit down on a stool in the exam room, never harried or hurried, and just start a conversation by asking, 'What are you here for?'" said Cheryl Gibson, who trained with Susan at UVM and later worked with her at Planned Parenthood and Vermont Gynecology. "That was really unusual at the time. Doctors usually set the agenda, but Susan didn't do things that way. She just listened, and she only spoke when she needed to clarify something."
The way Susan listened, Gibson said, was almost magical to behold. "She was so calming and reassuring, and people would open up to her and tell her their stories," she said. Susan sometimes treated survivors of sexual assault, and Gibson watched their anxiety dissipate in Susan's presence. "She was always one of the most steady people you would have ever met."
Susan ate the way she lived and worked. A lifelong vegetarian, she kept to a strict regimen of healthy, straightforward food — for breakfast, a toasted English muffin with butter and jam, washed down with a glass of milk and several cups of coffee; for lunch, a bowl of brown rice topped with a vegetable; for dinner, a salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a few slices of seeded baguette. "She was such a creature of habit," Joya said. "Everyone who knew her knew she ate exactly the same thing every single day."
When Joya was in college, she spent time working in Guatemala, and Susan flew down to visit her for three weeks. "I was pretty nervous about it," Joya said. "I was like, You're not going to be able to eat your English muffin and, like, salad and bread. My host mother literally put food in front of us, and she had to eat it."
But, to Joya's relief, Susan dug in. After that trip, Joya said, Susan even started re-creating some of her host's Guatemalan cooking at home.
By that point, Susan had already begun to show signs of Alzheimer's, but Joya said her mother rarely discussed her symptoms. Instead, she waged her own quiet campaign to slow the progression of the disease. She took turmeric pills, which she thought would boost her cognitive function; she often spent all day reading the newspaper and doing puzzles. Joya can still picture her mother at the kitchen table in their house on Hoover Street, poring over the Burlington Free Press or Seven Days with the soothing mumble of NPR in the background. Her cat, Nikki, fancied herself a paperweight, and she walked all over the pages as Susan tried to read them.
"She would turn her head sideways and stand in funny positions, just so she wouldn't disturb the cat," Joya said.
— Chelsea Edgar
February 7, 1934-October 2, 2021
- Henry Weinstock
Henry Weinstock loved talking to people. "It was probably No. 1 of his favorite things," said Joanna Weinstock, his wife of 52 years.
Henry was never happier than when he could combine his love of conversation with his other passion: cycling. He loved riding on the Colchester Causeway, Joanna said, where Henry often stopped to talk to other cyclists if he overheard them speaking French. For years, he worked as a Francophone greeter on the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, welcoming Québécois to the Queen City.
Henry excelled at connecting with others, especially in their native tongues. Born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium, during World War II, he grew up speaking Hungarian and Flemish, then learned French, English, Spanish and German. He also knew Latin and picked up some Turkish and Swahili in Africa.
"He wasn't shy about ... making a fool of himself by pronouncing things wrong," Joanna said.
Connecting with others was a skill Henry honed early in life. As a Jewish child raised during the Holocaust, languages became his lifeline, enabling him to forge what he once called his "surrogate family" when his actual family was imprisoned or killed.
Henry was 6 years old when the Nazis invaded Belgium in May 1940. As he told Vermont Public Radio in 2018, his Hungarian father, Eugene Weinstock, procrastinated their exodus from Belgium. (Henry's parents divorced when he was a baby.) By the time the Weinstocks reached France — they had tickets to sail to America aboard the Queen Mary — they were prohibited from crossing the border. Hungary was an Axis country, and they were considered the enemy.
Through Eugene's involvement with the Belgian Resistance, he met a Catholic priest who was sympathetic to the Jews' plight. He offered to baptize Henry as Catholic and hide him with nuns in southern Belgium.
At the time, Henry was living with relatives. Though his aunt objected to separating the family, one night Eugene took the boy away.
The following morning, Eugene returned to retrieve Henry's coat and found the apartment empty. According to a neighbor, just hours after their departure, Nazis arrested the entire family. All died in a concentration camp.
Henry was hidden from the gestapo by the Sisters of Bezonsonne in the Ardennes, and his name changed to Henri Albert Gerard. Along with 82 other Jewish children, he remained incommunicado from his family for more than two years. There, he learned French and witnessed some of the war's fiercest fighting at the Battle of the Bulge.
"There was death all around us," he recalled in his VPR interview. "It seemed bizarre, like a surrealistic dream. But it was real."
Reunited with his father, who'd survived Buchenwald, Henry emigrated to the U.S. in 1946. They settled in New York City, in a Harlem apartment downstairs from singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte. After Henry dropped out of school at 16, he worked as a messenger, occasionally delivering items to Belafonte's recording studio.
Drafted during the Korean War, Henry worked as an X-ray technician in a U.S. Army hospital in Germany. On leaves, he traveled by motor scooter to Paris, where he discovered his passion for French language and literature.
Henry's longtime friend, Georgette Garbès-Putzel of Jericho, a native of France, described Henry's French as impeccable and graceful — "like taking a bath in the most beautiful water you can imagine."
After his military discharge, Henry returned to New York and was hired as a translator by the United Nations, but he never worked there. He was dismissed after U.S. officials learned that Henry's uncle was Louis Weinstock, longtime leader of the Communist Party of the United States, imprisoned in 1955 for conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government.
- Henry Weinstock (left) with Édouard Froidure, the Catholic priest who baptized him, in 1946
Henry went on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, the City College of New York, New York University and the State University of New York-Albany, earning a doctorate in French literature. He met his future wife, American Joanna Smith, at a youth hostel in Denmark in 1967 while she was studying at the International College in Copenhagen.
"When I met him, I didn't know that he lived in New York," Joanna remembered. "For three days, I struggled with my high school French to speak to him — and he knew it! I think he just loved French and was happy to speak it."
The couple married in 1969 and in 1984 moved to Vermont, where Joanna had summered as a child. They settled in Jericho and had two children, André and Katherine.
While Joanna worked at the University of Vermont, Henry taught French and English at Rockland Community College, in Suffern, N.Y. Because of the long commute, Henry often slept in the back of his 1981 Volkswagen pickup, which ran on vegetable oil.
"It was his pride and joy, and everybody knew about it," Joanna said. "When he was home, he would spend most of his time tinkering with it."
Henry's passion for veggie-oil vehicles was shared by his longtime friend Roger Putzel. Henry and Roger met in 1986 at the Jericho Post Office when Roger pulled up in his Citroën, a French car rarely seen in the U.S. Recognizing the vehicle, Henry immediately started speaking French. Because Roger's wife, Georgette, is French, the two couples soon became good friends.
"It was a very eventful day in the life of Henry," Roger recalled, "for the better and very much for the worse."
Later that day, Henry was cycling on Route 15 when he was hit by a teenage driver. The wreck nearly severed his leg. He would have bled out at the scene, said Joanna, a retired physician, had he not landed in the yard of a medic, who applied a tourniquet and kept him alive. He was 52.
Henry recovered and continued cycling until the final months of his life. He and Roger occasionally rode together in Québec, though Roger recalled that, because of Henry's childhood experiences, border crossings unnerved him.
"He could never cross the border without making a quip that would get him into trouble," Roger recalled. "I would tell him, 'Henry, just answer the [guard's] question like it's the time of day, and we can deal with your feelings afterwards!'"
Though the Holocaust irrevocably shaped Henry's worldview — he became an agnostic and seeker — friends and family said it never diminished his faith in humanity.
In fact, Henry considered it his duty to talk about the Holocaust, and he shared stories with school groups whenever he was asked.
One story involved the time Henry wandered off and got lost in Brussels as a boy. A Nazi soldier found him crying and took him home, then sternly warned his father not to let it happen again. According to Joanna, Henry believed that the soldier knew they were Jews. Amid so much cruelty, misery and death, it was a simple act of human compassion.
"What always astonished me was his capacity for always seeing good in mankind," said Carolyn Subin, Henry's longtime neighbor and friend. "[It] was not an unsophisticated or uneducated view, but a deeply held conviction that people are more good than bad."
As a lover of spirited debate, she added, Henry would talk to anyone, regardless of their politics. Subin recounted a trip she took with the Weinstocks to Montréal, where Henry struck up a conversation with an extremely right-wing couple. Though she and Joanna found the couple's worldview so hateful that they moved to another table, Henry continued their dialogue.
"It was that generosity of spirit in him that I always found just remarkable," she added.
In September, Henry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; after a short stay in the hospital, he came home and succumbed in his sleep four days later. As Subin put it, "He died as gracefully as he lived."
Georgette Garbès-Putzel said she'll fondly remember how good Henry made people feel when he saw them again, describing his typical greeting as, "Ah, beautiful people! I'm so glad to see you! You are making my day!" Then, at the end of their meal, Henry often made the same joke: "What time is breakfast?'"
Henry Weinstock — polyglot, bon vivant and lover of people — never wanted the party to end.
— Ken Picard