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Thomas H. Foster

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BENNINGTON -- Thomas Henry Foster, a dedicated conservationist, man of letters, Vermont legislator and active member of the Bennington community for nearly a century, died on Dec. 28, 2004, at his home on Monument Avenue Extension. He was 97.

The son of Thomas H. Foster Sr. and Nettie Bernell (Potter) Foster, Mr. Foster was born in Bennington on July 24, 1907. He was educated in one-room schools in Old Bennington and West Bennington, and was a member of the Bennington High School, class of 1925.

In 1937, he married Catharine Osgood Foster, a Bennington College professor and writer. At the time, Mr. Foster was a poultry farmer in Bennington.

The wedding was front-page news in the Bennington Banner and the talk of the town. Through their long marriage they were partners in community and conservation projects, and at the center of a social circle deeply rooted both at the college and in the town. Mrs. Foster died in 1998.

Mr. Foster began to publish short book reviews in the Saturday Review and the Nation as early as 1927, and continued for 40 years, writing for such publications as the old New York Herald-Tribune and the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Until 1950, he was a poultry farmer in West Bennington, and during that period he penned numerous articles on poultry and farming subjects for the New England Homestead and the Rural New Yorker.

Many of his reviews reflected his lifelong interest in birds and conservation. He was a life member of the Nature Conservancy and Wilson’s Ornithological Society. He conducted studies for the U.S. government through extensive bird banding, and for many years organized seasonal bird counts in Bennington County. He photographed unusual birds in unusual habitats around the globe. He banded and photographed the first lark sparrow ever recorded in Vermont.

In 1946, Mr. Foster became a book scout for Farrar, Straus and Co. His first and best known “find” was Shirley Jackson, famous for such short stories as “The Lottery” and many other books. Among the authors he recommended but who were turned down were Konrad Lorenz and Anais Nin.

Mr. Foster was a prodigious correspondent. He maintained a constant flow of letters to family, friends and the famous alike. His correspondence with Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” continued for more than 50 years. In 2001, Mr. Foster’s papers, along with those of his wife, were deposited in a special collection at the Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. The papers are now open to scholars for research.

His concern about conservation and the need for control of development and protection of the Vermont environment was his essential motive in getting elected to serve in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1970 to 1976. He served on the Natural Resources Committee and pressed for passage of legislation to protect wetlands and scenic roads in Vermont. His interest in worldwide conservation as well took him to India and East Africa, and continued to be reflected in his membership in the east African Wildlife Society and the World Wildlife Fund.

Mr. Foster was a founder and the long-time president of the Mount Anthony Preservation Society (MAPS) in Bennington. By dint of his persuasive fund-raising skills and canny sense of strategy, MAPS acquired ownership of more than half of the lots on the mountain, and anchored broader conservation efforts on the west side of Bennington. For more than 20 years, board meetings were held in his front parlor, where land transactions were organized over cookies and tea.

Other civic interests led him to be a member of the first Bennington Planning Commission and also the first Bennington County Regional Planning Commission. He served for more than 30 years as chairman of the board of trustees of the Bennington Free Library, and was a regular borrower of books there for most of the 20th century. In WPA days, he was chairman of the Bennington County Musical Society. He served for many years on the board of the Merck Forest and Farmland Foundation.

Thrifty in his habits and shrewd in his investments, Mr. Foster long supported many local organizations. In remembrance of his wife, he left in excess of $2 million to Bennington College and $500,000 to Mount Holyoke College.

He is survived by his niece, Mildred Creasey, of Scotia, N.Y.; two nephews, John McNeilly of Bel Air, Md. and David McNeilly of Burlington; and by great-nieces and nephews.

Mr. Foster was a longtime congregant of the St. Peters Church in Bennington. His funeral will be held there at 11 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 30. Burial will be in Bennington Center Cemetery. Arrangements are under the care of Hanson-Walbridge Funeral Home 213 West Main St., Bennington.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Mount Anthony Preservation Society, c/o of Hanson-Walbridge Funeral Home, P.O. Box 957, Bennington, VT 05201.

For directions or to send e-mail condolences, please visit www.sheafuneralhomes.com.
Published in Bennington Banner on Dec. 29, 2004
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