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Former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling Dies At 87

Craig Line
Former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling, shown here in Nov. 1995, passed away Monday at age 87.

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling, who was also a state senator and first lady of Vermont, died Monday at her home in South Burlington at the age of 87, according to her family.

Snelling, who served lieutenant governor from 1993 to 1997, was the state’s 76th lieutenant governor. She also was also elected twice to the Vermont Senate beginning in 1998.

Snelling was married to former Republican Gov. Richard Snelling, who died in 1991, making Snelling Vermont’s First Lady from 1977 to 1985, and again in 1991 until her husband died later that year. She is the mother of Chittenden County Sen. Diane Snelling, and Mark Snelling who ran for lieutenant governor in 2010.

Snelling launched a bid for governor in 1996 but had to abandon the effort after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

“It seemed to me the whole state was praying on her behalf and it was possible to feel those prayers. I think it was because she had given so much,” her daughter, Diane said on Monday.

After recovering Snelling ran again for lieutenant governor in 1998 but lost by 500 votes. She then ran for a Chittenden County Senate seat and served two terms until another stroke forced her to resign.

Snelling had a long history of civic involvement, serving as chairwoman of the Shelburne School board and founding chairwoman of the Champlain Valley Union High School board. She was a member of the Vermont State School Boards Association, the Vermont Commission on Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation, chairwoman of the Chittenden County United Way, founding trustee of the Vermont Community Foundation, a trustee of Champlain and Radcliffe Colleges and a trustee of the Shelburne Museum.

Additionally, Snelling was vice president of the University of Vermont and later served as president of Snelling and Kolb, a national fundraising consulting firm she founded that focused of development work for educational institutions.

Her son, Mark, said the family is most proud of her work with the Vermont Community Foundation and as founder of Friends of the Vermont State House.

“As first lady she had a full time job but at the same time she was the founder of the Friends of the Vermont State House,” he said. “That, largely, was Barbara getting a group of people together and convincing them that it could be the wonderful historic place that it is. What an incredibly treat to have (the State House) in the condition that it’s in.”

The Vermont Community Foundation, which has donated “tens of millions of dollars to hundreds of organizations around Vermont,” is “emblematic of the work that Barbara did throughout her career,” Mark Snelling said.

“That’s what Barbara and Richard were all about. Their love affair with Vermont was about improving the lives of Vermonters,” he said.

The couple also had a friendly competition between them about their service, according to Mark Snelling.

“They both as individuals were very unique but there was a special magic that they had, and quite frankly, some of it was a competitive,” he said. “There was a scorecard and they kept score on each other and they teased each other all the time. That was a motivator for them. As a team, it was phenomenal.”

Snelling received numerous awards and honors, including honorary degrees from St. Michaels College, the University of Vermont, Norwich University and Middlebury College. She was also honored as Citizen of the Year by The Vermont Chamber of Commerce and The Green Mountain Council Boy Scouts.

“I think she broke through a lot of glass ceilings at a time when that wasn’t happening, and she did it with grace,” Diane Snelling said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a statement Monday honoring Snelling’s service to the state.

“Barbara Snelling served Vermont with great distinction in roles big and small. Whether in service to her state or community, Barbara will always be remembered for her compassion and dedication and for overcoming great personal tragedy to continue to give back to the state she loved,” the governor said. “The Snelling family has given and continues to give so much to Vermont. My thoughts are with the entire family and all those who knew Barbara.”

Snelling is survived by her four children — Jacqueline of Arlington, Virginia, Mark of Starksboro, Diane of Hinesburg and Andrew of Townsend. She is also survived by her brother, Russell Weil of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The family said Snelling's service and burial will be private, but a public celebration of her life will be held.

This story was originally published by the Vermont Press Bureau and is republished here under a partnership with the bureau.

Neal is a a reporter for the Vermont Press Bureau. He also files reports for Vermont Public Radio.
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