MONTPELIER — Former Republican Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling, who was also a state senator and first lady of Vermont, died at the age of 87 on Monday at her home in South Burlington, surrounded by her family, according to her son.
Snelling, who served as lieutenant governor from 1993 to 1997, was the state’s 76th lieutenant governor. She was also elected twice to the Vermont Senate beginning in 1998.
Snelling, born Barbara Tuttle Weil in Fall River, Mass., on March 22, 1928, was married to former Republican Gov. Richard Snelling, who died in 1991, making Snelling Vermont’s First Lady from 1977 to 1985, and again in 1991 until her husband died later that year. She is the mother of Chittenden County Sen. Diane Snelling, and Mark Snelling, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2010.
Snelling launched a bid for governor in 1996 but had to abandon the effort after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.
“It seemed to me the whole state was praying on her behalf and it was possible to feel those prayers. I think it was because she had given so much,” her daughter, Diane said on Monday.
After recovering Snelling ran again for lieutenant governor in 1998 but lost by 500 votes. She then ran for a Chittenden County Senate seat and served two terms until another stroke forced her to resign.
Snelling had a long history of civic involvement, serving as chairwoman of the Shelburne School board and founding chairwoman of the Champlain Valley Union High School board. She was a member of the Vermont State School Boards Association, the Vermont Commission on Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation, chairwoman of the Chittenden County United Way, founding trustee of the Vermont Community Foundation, a trustee of Champlain and Radcliffe Colleges and a trustee of the Shelburne Museum.
Additionally, Snelling was vice president of the University of Vermont and later served as president of Snelling and Kolb, a national fundraising consulting firm she founded that focused on development work for educational institutions.
Her son, Mark, said the family is most proud of her work with the Vermont Community Foundation and as founder of Friends of the Vermont State House.
“As first lady she had a full time job but at the same time she was the founder of the Friends of the Vermont State House,” he said. “That, largely, was Barbara getting a group of people together and convincing them that it could be the wonderful historic place that it is. What an incredibly treat to have (the State House) in the condition that it’s in.”
The Vermont Community Foundation, which has donated “tens of millions of dollars to hundreds of organizations around Vermont,” is “emblematic of the work that Barbara did throughout her career,” Mark Snelling said.
“That’s what Barbara and Richard were all about. Their love affair with Vermont was about improving the lives of Vermonters,” he said.
The couple also had a friendly competition between them about their service, according to Mark Snelling.
“They both as individuals were very unique but there was a special magic that they had, and quite frankly, some of it was a competitive,” he said. “There was a scorecard and the kept score on each other and they teased each other all the time. That was a motivator for them. As a team, it was phenomenal.”
Snelling received numerous awards and honors, including honorary degrees from St. Michaels College, The University of Vermont, Norwich University and Middlebury College. She was also honored as Citizen of the Year by The Vermont Chamber of Commerce and The Green Mountain Council Boy Scouts.
“I think she broke through a lot of glass ceilings at a time when that wasn’t happening, and she did it with grace,” Diane Snelling said.
The state’s top elected officials praised Snelling Monday for her dedication to the state.
Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a statement honoring Snelling’s service.
“Barbara Snelling served Vermont with great distinction in roles big and small. Whether in service to her state or community, Barbara will always be remembered for her compassion and dedication and for overcoming great personal tragedy to continue to give back to the state she loved,” the governor said. “The Snelling family has given and continues to give so much to Vermont. My thoughts are with the entire family and all those who knew Barbara.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who entered the Senate the same year Snelling did following her tenure as lieutenant governor, called her “a true public servant.”
“Barbara Snelling is a Vermonter who lived her life in a way we can all learn from. She reminded us that as public servants, we must selflessly put progress ahead of politics. As family members, she reminded us of the value of empowering our spouse, our children and our friends to find their voice and serve,” he said. “Vermonters can honor Barbara by carrying on her legacy of public service, finding ways to work with others, and living our lives to the fullest — leaving no opportunity behind.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy noted Snelling’s efforts to improve the lives of Vermont families.
“Like her late husband, Barbara loved Vermont. She brought that spirit to every office she held, working to make life better for families and communities in Chittenden County and across our state,” he said. “Marcelle and I join all Vermonters in offering our appreciation and best wishes to her entire family and their friends and to all who knew or worked with her.”
Peter Welch, Vermont’s lone congressman, called Snelling “an extraordinary wife, mother, businesswoman and public servant.”
“She cared deeply about her family, her community, and her state. And in the face of personal and professional adversity, she persevered time and time again,” Welch said in a statement. “All Vermonters owe Barbara and her family a debt of gratitude for their deep commitment to improving our state. My thoughts are with the Snelling family as they commemorate and celebrate Barbara’s lifetime of accomplishment.”
The Vermont Republican Party also issued a statement Monday.
“We are deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of former Lt. Governor Barbara Snelling. In her roles as our state’s First Lady, Lieutenant Governor, gubernatorial candidate and State Senator, she served Vermont and our party with great distinction,” the statement reads. “Her deep dedication to Vermonters will continue to serve as an inspiration for all of us who desire to make our state an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”
Former Democratic Gov. Howard Dean, who served in the state’s top job while Snelling was lieutenant governor, called her “a very gracious” person.
“Her whole life was really about public service,” Dean said. “I think the biggest and most important lesson is that you can do a lot of things for people simply by being consistent, whether in the private or public sector, and keeping in mind that you really need to work for your community, not just yourself. That’s what Barbara did.”
Snelling is survived by her four children — Jacqueline of Arlington, Va., Mark of Starksboro, Diane of Hinesburg and Andrew of Townsend. She is also survived by her brother, Russell Weil of Chevy Chase, Md.
The family said Snelling’s service and burial will be private, but a public celebration of her life will be held.