Obituary: Thomas Fenn Rider Jr., 1935-2020 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Thomas Fenn Rider Jr., 1935-2020

The former principal of Burlington’s Thayer School made a positive impact in students’ lives

Published July 8, 2020 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated July 10, 2020 at 10:29 a.m.

Fenn Rider
  • Fenn Rider

Thomas Fenn Rider Jr., 85, passed away at the University of Vermont Medical Center on June 22, 2020. He was born on May 26, 1935, in Uniontown, Pa., the son of Thomas Fenn Rider Sr. and Ruth Conn Rider. He was a graduate of Uniontown High School and the University of Pittsburgh in 1958. While in college, he played cornet in the University of Pittsburgh Varsity Marching Band. One of the highlights of that time for him was playing in the Sugar Bowl when the Pitt football team played there in 1956. This instilled in him a lifelong appreciation for marching band music. He was a member of Phi Delta Theta and president of his chapter. While at Pitt, he also met his future wife, Bronwyn, when his roommate and her nursing school roommate became engaged and invited them both to be in the wedding party. They were married in Apollo, Pa., on April 30, 1960.

Fenn’s career in education began in 1958 in Howard and Calvert counties, Md., where he was a teacher and vice principal. He earned his master of education degree from the University of Maryland in 1965. He became principal of Parkway School in Frederick County, Md., in 1966. In 1969, the family relocated to Burlington, where Fenn was the principal of Thayer School for the next 15 years. While he was at Thayer, the school was awarded a federal grant to study how children learn. Up to that time, it was the largest individual private elementary school grant in the history of the state. It used a system of levels to evaluate how students were progressing, rather than the usual grading system. When Thayer closed due to decreasing enrollment, Fenn directed the Continuing Education Program for the district for the next two years. During his time at Thayer, he earned a certificate of advanced studies in administration and planning at UVM.

The next move was to Brooklyn, Conn., in 1986, where Fenn became the coordinator of Instruction and Pupil Services in the Brooklyn School Department. After two years there, the family moved back to Vermont (which they had hoped to do at some point), and Fenn became principal of Williamstown Elementary School. It was from this job that he retired, but later he did work for the Asian Studies Program at UVM. Visiting scholars from China and Thailand lived in the Riders’ home at various times during those years.

Fenn had many other interests during his lifetime. At an early age, he became a collector of stamps and first day covers. His interest in music has already been mentioned. For several summers, he volunteered at the Dragonheart Vermont annual festivals. He was an active member of Christ Church, Presbyterian. He was involved in Burlington’s youth hockey association and coached his son’s team from 1971 to 1974. During his time with Asian Studies, he was able to visit China three times. He was enthusiastic about travel generally, having also been to Japan, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Italy and France. Fenn had been a 64-year member of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania, Laurel Lodge #651 at Uniontown. He was a past member of the Chittenden County Retired Teachers Association and Phi Delta Kappa, a professional fraternity in education. He had also participated in and attended many professional workshops and conferences throughout the years.

Fenn has been described in a number of ways by those who knew him: quirky; one-of-a-kind; an original, fun-loving, out-of-the-box thinker; a straight talker; good with children. Probably the one of those he would have liked the best is knowing he was considered to be good with children. That was his life’s focus.

He is survived by his wife, Bronwyn Wyble Rider; his son, Thomas Fenn Rider III, daughter-in-law Elizabeth Schiavone Rider, and grandsons Thomas Fenn Rider IV and Ian Anthony Rider of Shelburne; his daughter, Hilary Rider Green, son-in-law Edward Green, and granddaughters Anna Fiona Green and Emilyn Rose Green of Santa Cruz, Calif.; granddaughter Bridget Bronwyn Sullivan of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; nieces Deborah McDonald of Uniontown, Pa., and Lois Barthen of Franklin, Pa.; and brother-in-law Dr. John F. Wyble of Monroeville, Pa. He was predeceased by his parents and his sister, Hazel Doris Rider McDonald, of Erie, Pa.

A memorial service will be held at a later date when it will be safe for people to gather. Arrangements are in the care of the Cremation Society of Chittenden County, a division of the Ready Family. To send online condolences, please visit

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