Former Vermont Lieutenant Governor, first lady and state Senator Barbara Snelling died Monday at the age of 87. WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley has more on a woman being remembered as a Vermont icon.
Barbara Snelling was the daughter of an Episcopal minister. She attended Smith and Radcliffe Colleges, graduating magna cum laude. Following graduation she and her husband Richard moved to Vermont and she immersed herself in the community and eventually politics.
After her husband Governor Richard Snelling died in office in 1991, she won the Lieutenant Governor’s race, serving from 1992 until 1997. In 1996 her campaign for governor was aborted when she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that doctors did not expect her to survive. She recovered and ran again for lieutenant governor but lost. She subsequently ran for state Senate, serving two terms until a stroke forced her to resign.
Howard Dean was Vermont’s governor from 1991 until 2003, assuming office in 1991 when Governor Snelling died of a heart attack. Dean says he came to know both Richard and Barbara well and says he will miss her stewardship of the state and how she set an example for other Vermonters. “She was a fixture in public life in Vermont for many, many years long before she got into politics. She was a vice-president of the University of Vermont. She had been involved in all kinds of causes, so she was a real public servant before she got into politics. Then after Dick died she ran for lieutenant governor and was elected. She always felt that she had a lot to contribute to the state and in fact she did contribute a lot to the state. The last of which was the Snelling Center named after her husband which is basically a good government think tank at the University of Vermont.”
State Senator Bill Doyle says Snelling was a remarkable person and believes her most important legacy is her creation of the Snelling Center. “The Snelling Center has I think trained over 600 people to serve in different ways in state government. So that’s a remarkable achievement because that will be the most long-lasting achievement in addition to all the other wonderful achievements that she did make.”
Jim Douglas served as Vermont governor from 2003 until 2011. He says Barbara Snelling was larger than life. “She was energetic. She was smart. She was forward thinking. She was resilient. I think she was a great inspiration to other women. She is a great inspiration because of her illness and recovery. When she suffered her stroke in 1996 she was given a 5 percent chance of survival. Well, that’s all Barbara Snelling needed. She I think is someone by sheer force of her personality and determination can inspire others to succeed too. Such determination. She always had a smile but there’s real steel there too. We’ll miss her.”
Snelling’s son Mark says his mother epitomized community engagement, which is what set her apart. “Her passion. Her willingness to listen to all sides of any particular issue. To be thoughtful and to come to a decision willing to listen to people. She had a personality that was very persuasive when she made her mind up on something. She could be very effective at communicating and that in the political arena is a very, very helpful tool.”
Snelling says the family is doing well. “We had a wonderful opportunity to spend time with Barbara the last few years, and as she was sick over the last couple of weeks her family was able to be around her and we loved her. We will cherish the memories that we had from little kids growing up on the shores of Lake Champlain to watching her have some wonderful successes in life.”
Services and burial will be private. A public celebration of Barbara Snelling’s life will be announced later.