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Barbara Snelling Remembered At State House

Craig Line
A celebration of the life of former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling was held at the State House Friday.

She left Vermont a better place than she found it.

This was the overarching message offered at the State House on Friday during a celebration of the life of lieutenant governor, state senator and first lady Barbara Snelling, whose impact on Vermont can be felt not just in the field of politics, but also in education and philanthropy.

“Today, I’m filled more with gratitude than sadness,” said Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, one of Barbara Snelling’s four children, all of whom were at the memorial service. “She demonstrated that living life to the fullest involves risk, courage and grace.”

Snelling, who died Nov. 2 at the age of 87 at her home in South Burlington, was the wife of Richard Snelling, who was Vermont’s governor from 1977 to 1985, and again in 1991.

While speaker after speaker referred to her as Richard’s closest adviser, she had a prominent political career of her own, serving as lieutenant governor from 1993 to 1997 and winning two terms in the state Senate beginning in 1998.

Gov. James Douglas, who at one time was an assistant to Richard Snelling, recalled a time when Barbara Snelling butted heads with then-House Speaker Ralph Wright, who reportedly referred to her as an “aggressive woman.”

“She was an aggressive woman, in a respectful way, in my opinion,” Douglas said to the crowd, many of whom were wearing buttons they received at the door that read “Aggressive woman at work.”

"She opened people's eyes to the necessity of having women in leadership position." -- Martha Maksym, United Way of Chittenden County.

“They were both larger than life and they left their mark on the state they loved so much,” Douglas said of Richard and Barbara Snelling. “She was a role model who showed us that women can have it all.”

Her political career is just a slice of a life devoted to public service. She was the chairwoman of the Shelburne School Board, the Champlain Valley Union High School Board and the United Way of Chittenden County. She was also a trustee of Champlain and Radcliffe colleges and the Shelburne Museum.

"She definitely made this world better, and she left more than she took." --Stuart Comstock-Gay, Vermont Community Foundation.

“She opened people’s eyes to the necessity of having women in leadership positions,” said Martha Maksym, executive director of the United Way of Chittenden County.

Snelling was also a founding trustee of the Vermont Community Foundation in 1986, which, five years later in 1991, had amassed $5 million in assets.

“She definitely made this world better, and she left more than she took,” said Stuart Comstock-Gay, president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation.

Before asking for a moment of silence, Rev. Robert Potter, pastor of the Peacham Congregational Church, offered his understanding of the meaning of Snelling’s life.

“Barbara’s life clarified the meaning of life and love and death,” Potter said. “The meaning is in the memories, and the memories will sustain us on through the long winter ahead and the seasons to come.”

Josh O'Gorman is a reporter for the Vermont Press Bureau and a contributor to VPR News.
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