Remembering some of the Vermonters lost in the state's deadliest year of COVID
A year after the novel coronavirus was deemed a pandemic, the disease killed fewer than 250 people in Vermont. Now Vermont's Department of Health has documented nearly 700 deaths from the virus in the state, likely an underestimate. Most have occurred in the past year.
Those who died were bus drivers, artists, accountants, and roofers. A gymnastics coach. A parole officer. A retired printing press operator.
Family members of four Vermonters who passed away in the past year recently remembered their loved ones.
Kip Fry, Rutland
Kip loved jazz music, and writing, and his cat, Sonny Boy. He was a night owl. He liked lifting weights when he was feeling well enough. He was born in Burlington at the same hospital where he died in February, just over a week after testing positive for COVID. He was 61. His brother, Andy Fry, of Lawrence, Kansas has this portrait:
His passion, growing up, was writing. Over the years, everything he did was pretty much based around his writing.
When he graduated with his undergrad, he was hired to be the sports editor for three different newspapers in southeast Nebraska. That was kind of crazy, because he covered 13 high schools. He was the photographer, he was everything.
Then in ‘88 he moved back to Vermont and started a business called Wildflower Publishing. I think one of his pride and joys was the Dorset Country Journal. That was published for a number of years. That kind of served the central Vermont area.
He did everything from selling the advertising to writing the columns, interviews with people in the area. I remember Dom DeLuise, who’s a well-known comedian, he had a place somewhere in the area. Treat Williams, who was in tons of movies in Hollywood, he had a place in the area. He’d track them down and interview them. He really enjoyed that.
He loved jazz. Any opportunity he had, he loved to go to the Montreal Jazz Festival. An old college buddy and he would go up and spend several days up there and take in the jazz festival.
When he was in his last days, that week my brother took a bag of his CDs and a little CD player. And they were at the hospital playing jazz music in his room. They had it on low because they knew he liked it. The nurses were awesome up there, they said, "Yeah, we switch them out every so often."
"He had a gift that most people don't have. He could write and he could be creative. And he was meticulous. He was passionate."Andy Fry
You know everyone goes through this. But you always knew he was there. And now, he’s not. It’s kind of like, there’s a hole there. It’s funny when it hits you too. It’s just some little something. You think, next time I talk to him, I need to mention this. It’s like no, there’s not going be. It’s just not gonna be.
And on one hand, his death doesn’t surprise me. Because it’s like, oh my gosh, with all his health problems, something’s going to break down. But not yet. He was only 61. He was just a few days shy of his 62nd birthday.
I just hope he knows he was loved. He had a gift that most people don't have. He could write and he could be creative. And he was meticulous. He was passionate. You want to get a good conversation going, there were a few topics that, boy, that will get him going. That was his nature, that’s part of what made him who he was.
I’ve come across this phrase, "Live a life that matters." I hope he knows that he lived a life that matters.
Joanne Bourgeois, Bennington
My mother loved music. She was a big Elvis fan, back in the day. She loved all music that was in the '60s: rock ‘n’ roll, she loved Christmas music, the Beatles. You can mention most any song from the ‘60s and she would know it. And she could sing it. She had the CDs. As I was growing up, we went from 8-tracks to tapes to CDs in the car and around. My mother was always humming, always singing some song or another.
At one point we lived in an apartment complex. And our apartment was right near the stairs that went down to where the cars were. A lot of people would walk through there. They would always comment, the window would be open, and they could hear her humming and singing while she was doing the dishes. They got a big kick out of that. People would wave to her and laugh and have a grand old time with her.
"You can mention most any song from the ‘60s, and she would know it. And she could sing it."Father Bernie Bourgeois
My mother was very good with money and cash registers. And understanding accounting procedures of how to do all that. And ended up teaching others how to use a cash register — how to cash out. She was very good at that kind of thing.
She was a big reader. She loved Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts. If there was a new Danielle Steel book out, I was ordered to get her a copy of it as soon as I possibly could.
She and my father were married almost 50 years. He died in 2018. They had a great run together, the two of them. They were an interesting couple in that you would go a long way to find two people more unalike, in the sense that he was very outgoing, he was the center of the party, he was the talker. She would just sit back and let him do it.
She was one of these that, she was just always there. You always knew where mom was, you knew if you called the house, day or night, after she retired especially, if you called the house, she would answer the phone.
I think, if I picture her, I can see her — she had a glider chair — sitting in her chair with a book in one hand, a soap opera on, her humming. All this could be happening at the same time. Talking, laughing. My mother had a hardy laugh and could get others to laugh pretty quickly.
David (Davy) Callahan, Montpelier
I remember him just usually playing guitar and singing. Even before he could play guitar, he would sing. When he was a little boy, he’d write songs. He started learning how to play guitar when he was 9. And then we were so into the Beatles. He learned how to play all the Beatles songs except for like, two.
Then, as he got a little older, he got into Led Zeppelin, and different bands like that. And more into girls. The girls for some reason thought he was cute. He had long, long hair. He was long, lanky and skinny and stuff. I never thought he was cute. But other people did.
"He was an open ear for people to talk to, and he would let people know how important they were, and they were important to him."Laura Callahan
He was like a wild child for sure. He taught me how to climb trees, he taught me how to play tag, he taught me how to build forts and make tepees, and find wild edibles out in the wilderness, and survival skills and different things like that, that he was really into.
He was really into putting bikes together for people – other kids who had broken bikes, he would help fix them. He was a real avid bicyclist. He loved bicycling, he went to Nevada and back on his bike.
He gave good advice to people who might not know God. And he could, through his relationship with God, share God’s love with other people. He was an open ear for people to talk to, and he would let people know how important they were, and they were important to him.
Obie Johnson, Poultney
There was no obituary for Obie. He didn’t want one. But his wife of 31 years was willing to share memories of her husband. He was an antique dealer and homesteader and devoted father of four boys. He died last September, not long after getting COVID. He was 62. Here’s Nancy Carey Johnson:
I met him doing farmers markets in New York City, and eight months later, we were married. I grew up in Brooklyn. He grew up in upstate New York. He was like no man I ever met. And that was amazing for me. He was so capable. Tall, handsome, capable. No-nonsense kind of guy.
We were the parents of four boys. And we didn’t go out for dinner for 15 years. Because as he said, "Fifty dollars brings a lot of beans and potatoes into this household." He was right. That was fine. I had no issue with that.
He had a lot of charisma, but it was a very quiet charisma. Kids really liked him, animals liked him, people really liked him.
"I actually used to tell people, ‘I married Grizzly Adams personified.’ Because it’s really who he was. He actually looked like it."Nancy Carey Johnson
He loved to hunt. He liked to fish. He loved to antique. He loved his boys more than life himself. He loved to be outdoors. He really was truly an outdoorsman. And an amazing one, I don’t just say that. I actually used to tell people, "I married Grizzly Adams personified." Because it’s really who he was. He actually looked like it. He was 6'4". And massive. Had a big beard, mustache, sort of long hair. People called him either Grizzly Adams or Andre the Giant.
He was in a movie once. A friend of mine was doing the casting. The director said, "I need characters, you need to get me good characters." So she called Obie and said, "Will you please be in my movie?" She needed him to be an extra. So he was in the movie because she said, "He’s the biggest character I know!"
When I would be upset, if he wrapped his arms around me, I would let go of the upset almost immediately. He was out of town one time, and I was just so out of sorts. And he called and his voice just allowed me to relax, and I just let go. He was really amazing like that. He had incredible intuition and he really paid attention to the surroundings. Nothing got past him. He really was paying attention.
"His goal was to leave as few footprints on the earth as possible. He wanted to live his life quietly, he wanted to enjoy it. He wanted to raise his family and spend time with them. And he did."Nancy Carey Johnson
He would say things like, he’d go for walks in the woods, and he’d say, "Sometimes the only thing I’d see were the chickadees that kept me company." And he loved it. He loved to be outside, he loved to be in nature.
One thing about Obie that I have always admired, was his goal was to leave as few footprints on the earth as possible. He wanted to live his life quietly, he wanted to enjoy it. He wanted to raise his family and spend time with them. And he did. He won in the long run. He did exactly what he wanted.
Lexi Krupp is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and regions.
If you have questions, comments or tips, send us a message or get in touch with reporter Lexi Krupp: