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'He Had Everyone's Respect': Remembering Former Vt. Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon

Jim Reardon speaking into a microphone with a raised hand
Toby Talbot
Associated Press File

Jim Reardon, who served as Vermont's finance commissioner for a decade, died Monday at the age of 61. He is being remembered by state officials as a dedicated public servant who worked with members of different political parties in order to serve Vermonters.

Reardon spent almost three decades in state government. He became commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management in 2005 and stayed in that position until his retirement in 2015. 

Reardon served as finance commissioner for two governors of differing political parties — Jim Douglas and Peter Shumlin — and he worked with Legislatures of varying political makeups.

"Political leaders of all parties understood that there was no BS with Jim," said Neale Lunderville, who served as administration secretary under Douglas. "He was going to give you the straight facts and you weren't going to be able to fool him and he wasn't going to try to fool you. And so, he had everyone's respect."  

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, who worked alongside Reardon during the Douglas administration, said Reardon had an unpretenious demeanor that cultivated trust among members of state government.

"Anything that came out of his mouth you knew was true," Smith said.

Smith referred to Reardon as "the Columbo of state government," a nod to the television detective played by Peter Falk.

"If you underestimated him, you did it at your own detriment," Smith said of Reardon. "He was brilliant with numbers. He was just a fascinating guy to talk to. He was a problem solver." 

Former colleagues recalled Reardon using his budgetary influence to advocate for vulnerable Vermonters, and how he kept people front of mind with his work.

"Everything that he did, it was never just about the numbers," Lunderville said. "Yeah they were important, but like, are these programs really working? And if they weren't, Jim wanted to fix that."

"As gruff as he may have appeared to be, he really cared about people — both those he worked with and in general, the people of the state of Vermont." — Human Services Secretary Mike Smith

"As gruff as he may have appeared to be," Smith said, "he really cared about people — both those he worked with and, in general, the people of the state of Vermont."

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said he first encountered Reardon during his first Senate term.

"I would often see Jim speaking in committees I served on," Ashe said, "and was just astounded by his completely encyclopedic knowledge of where every penny was."

According to Ashe, Reardon could be counted on to speak the truth even when it was difficult to hear. Ashe also recalled watching Reardon listen to and consider the budget proposals put forth by lawmakers.

"You could see the wheels turning in his mind, trying to figure out how to accomplish what everyone wanted," Ashe said. 

In a written statement Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott offered condolences and praised Reardon's commitment to the state:

"Yesterday, we lost a brilliant public servant and an exceptional Vermonter. For decades Jim Reardon helped oversee the finances of our state. Through good and difficult economic times, Jim served the people and the state he loved with unmatched dedication and the utmost integrity."

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