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Veteran Bennington Sen. Dick Sears dies at 81

A man wearing a gray suit and a brown cap sits at the head of a sturdy long table in a Committee room in the Vermont statehouse.
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, died this weekend. He was 81.

This story may be updated.

Longtime Vermont state Sen. Dick Sears — who represented Bennington County for more than three decades — died this weekend. He was 81.

His death was confirmed by Senate leadership Sunday; a cause of death was not provided.

Sears, a Democrat, served in the upper chamber for 32 years and championed judicial reform — including reducing the number of Vermonters who were incarcerated out of state — and often advocated for a trauma-informed approach to the rehabilitation of at-risk youth.

"Bring to mind any major public safety, court reform or decriminalization initiative of the last thirty years, and chances are excellent that Dick Sears was the driving force behind it," said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth in a statement.

Sears was also a strong proponent of efforts to decriminalize cannabis and create a retail market. Over the years, he changed his position on gun control from being an opponent to an advocate, according to Baruth.

"He was one of the most effective leaders in the Senate and will be sorely missed," said Sen. Brian Campion in a statement released Sunday. "Dick was also a dear friend and I will always remember his sense of humor, sense of justice and lifelong dedication to the service of others."

Gov. Phil Scott also said Sears' passing was an "incredible loss."

“He was a true champion for Bennington county," Scott said in a statement. "And, as stubborn or gruff as he could be at times, he and I shared a love of golden retrievers — we both had them — which was something we could always bond over."

Sears had recently filed re-election papers.

According to his legislative biography, Sears was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, on April 22, 1943, and became a
resident of Bennington in 1971.

Baruth said Sears was born to a mother who was incarcerated and adopted when he was 9 months old. The experience profoundly impacted his life.

"He felt for people who were displaced and at an disadvantage," Baruth said in an interview with Vermont Public. "Dick Sears managed to channel it into life-changing legislation for people way, way beyond the Vermont Statehouse."

Sears worked in residential programs for troubled youth for more than 35 years. He served on the Bennington Select Board from 1987 to 1993, including as chairperson, before joining the Legislature.

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Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
Brittany Patterson joined Vermont Public in December 2020. Previously, she was an energy and environment reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Ohio Valley ReSource. Prior to that, she covered public lands, the Interior Department and forests for E&E News' ClimateWire, based in Washington, D.C. Brittany also teaches audio storytelling and has taught classes at West Virginia University, Saint Michael's College and the University of Vermont. She holds degrees in journalism from San Jose State University and U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. A native of California, Brittany has fallen in love with Vermont. She enjoys hiking, skiing, baking and cuddling with her rescues, a 95-pound American Bulldog mix named Cooper, and Mila, the most beautiful calico cat you'll ever meet.
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