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T. Garry Buckley

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T. Garry Buckley 1922-2012 T. Garry Buckley, a former Republican Lieutenant Governor and long a prominent figure in the business and political community of Bennington, died Wednesday in Stowe. He was 89 and in recent years had been splitting his time between Stowe and Vero Beach, Florida. Although he was a State Senator and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and later Lieutenant Governor in his own right, he also was known for the key role he played in the 1962 election of Philip Hoff as the state's first Democratic governor in 109 years, and for the legal suit he and others to brought to force the reapportionment of the state legislature. Buckley was elected the 72nd Lieutenant Governor of Vermont in 1976 without winning a majority of the popular vote. With none of the three candidates receiving a majority, he was elected by the legislature by three votes, causing him to quip that "Sometimes even blind hogs find acorns". He served one term under Gov. Richard Snelling but was defeated in the Republican primary when he sought reelection in 1978. Thomas Garry Buckley was born Sept. 13, 1922 in Albany, N.Y., the son of Christopher Buckley and Margaret Garry Buckley. His father owned a string of movie theaters in the Albany area, and eventually moved to Bennington in the 1940s and operated the General Stark Theater on Main Street. His mother was particularly proud of having gone back to school in middle age and getting a degree from Bennington College in 1955. Buckley attended college at Brown, but dropped out to join the Army Air Corps during World War II, becoming a glider pilot who trained other glider pilots at stateside bases. After the war he created a real estate and insurance business in Bennington, and began a long involvement in local and state politics. He married Frances Littlefield, and for many years they and their five children lived in the large house on West Road that originally was built in the late 1700s by former Vermont Governor Isaac Tichenor. Among his other activities, Buckley was a long time member of the board of trustees of the Bennington Museum. Buckley's key role in the 1962 election stemmed from the creation of the Vermont Independent Party (VIP), which was formed by himself and Brattleboro attorney A. Luke Crispe as a way of opposing the reelection of incumbent Republican Governor F. Ray Keyser, Jr. Buckley later said that he thought that Keyser was a "stiff, and just because we're Republicans is no reason to return a stiff." But he also conceeded that the opposition to Keyser had less to do with politics than horse racing. The state had recently approved the operation of a pari-mutual race track at Pownal, and Buckley and Crispe were among a number of people trying to obtain the license to run it. According to Buckley, they told Keyser that he should give the franchise to a Vermont-based group. "We told Keyser that if he didn't give it to a Vermont group-- not necessarily to us, but to a group from Vermont -- we'd campaign against him," he said. "When you make a threat like that, you have to make sure it sticks." When the franchise was given to a group from Rhode Island, Crispe and Buckley created the VIP with Hoff as its candidate for governor. That was important because it allowed traditional Republicans who couldn't bring themselves to vote for any Democrat, to vote for Hoff without having to vote on the Democratic ticket. The more than 3,200 votes Hoff received on the VIP line allowed him to beat Keyser with just 50.6% of the vote. Hoff would go on to serve three terms and oversee a period of great change in the politics, demographics and economy of the state. "He was a wonderful guy. He was right for the times," Buckley later said of Hoff. "But we weren't altruistically supporting him. It was a negative support, against Keyser... And we got Hoff the votes he needed to win." If they hadn't, he added, "He would have been a perfectly nice guy also-ran". Although VIP wasn't a broad-based or long-lasting party, Buckley and Crispe decided that if it was claiming to be a party it needed a platform, even if it was a limited one. So they decided to go to federal court to sue to have the legislature reapportioned. That was at a time when every one of the 246 towns sent a single representative to the Vermont House, which meant that the vote of the representative from Burlington, which had more than 30,000 people, could be negated by the vote of the representative from Stratton, which back before the ski area was developed had just 24 residents and probably had more bears than people. Reapportionment in fact was ordered in 1964, which changed Vermont's government in dramatic ways. "We may have been the only party in history that kept all its campaign promises, because we only had one," Buckley said. After the death of his first wife, Buckey married Barbara Morgan and then Patricia Mann. He later married Hesterley Black, the widow of Charles Black, who survives him. He also is survived by a sister, Jane Chapman of Plattsburgh, N.Y. and William Buckley of Westport, Conn. He was pre-deceased by two brothers, Christopher and James. He also is survived by his children, Garry Buckley, Jr. of North Bennington, David and Peter of Bennington, Katherine Buckley-Pell of Salt Point, N.Y., and Jonathan Buckley of Canandaigua, N.Y., and three grandchildren, Lydia Littlefield Buckley, Caroline Hope Buckley, and Elliot James Buckley, the children and David Buckley and their loving mother, Amy Buckley. His son David said that he died peacefully and all of the children and grandchildren had a chance to say good-bye. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Published in Bennington Banner on May 25, 2012
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