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William Kearns Jr.

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William F. Kearns Jr. 1921-2011 William F. Kearns Jr., 89, a former Vermont newsman and public servant, died Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011, at Westwood Care and Rehabilitation Center in Keene, N.H., after a period of failing health. Kearns had been a reporter for the Bennington Banner and Rutland Herald before heading the Morning Press Bureau, which during the 1950s was the State House bureau for the Herald and the Burlington Free Press. He then worked for five different Vermont governors: for Robert Stafford and Ray Keyser as Deputy Commissioner of Institutions, for Philip Hoff as Commissioner of Administration, and for Thomas Salmon and Richard Snelling as executive director of the Vermont State Housing Authority. He also served Maine Gov. Kenneth Curtis as Commissioner of Mental Health and Corrections. Kearns was born in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., on July 24, 1921, to William and Katherine Toohey Kearns. He graduated from Bennington High School and attended one semester at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942. He served in the Pacific during World War II, where he was awarded a Purple Heart and a bronze star for refusing to leave his station as a radioman after being wounded in the initial assault on Saipan, Marianas Islands, on June 17, 1944. After the war's conclusion, he spent one semester at Goddard College in Plainfield. On Oct. 25, 1947, he wed Elizabeth Burgess of Bennington, who survives him. His newspaper career also included a job with the Hammond (Ind.) Times, but he returned to Vermont in the early 1950s to become chief of the Press Bureau in Montpelier for eight years. He interrupted his government career in 1975-1976 to take his wife and young son, Robert, on a 10-month cross-country road trip, and before retiring to Florida in 1989, he worked as Director of Community Relations for Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin. In 2002, he and his wife relocated to Walpole, New Hampshire, to be closer to family. In 1975, Kearns received an honorary Doctorate in Public Service from St. Francis College in Biddeford, Me. For the past several months, he has assisted in pre-publication revisions to a book on the Hoff administration and its legacy. Survivors include Elizabeth, his wife of 63 years; daughters Gail Kearns of Santa Barbara, Calif., Sandra Brauer and son-in-law, Fred, of Fletcher, Dianne Duncan and son-in-law, Dayton, of Walpole, N.H., and son Robert and daughter-in-law, Lauren, of Burlington, N.C.; five grandchildren, Mary Ann Ryan of Knox, Me., Rebecca Barnes of Enosburg Falls, Shane Barnes of Johnson, Emme Duncan of Meriden, N.H., and Will Duncan of Walpole, and four great-grandchildren, Mitchell and Logan Ryan of Knox, Me., and Alexander and Elizabeth Firkey of Enosburg Falls. His parents, three brothers and one sister died earlier. Contributions in his memory may be made to Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services, 312 Marlboro St., Keene, N.H. 03431.

Published in Bennington Banner on Jan. 7, 2011
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