MONTPELIER — Longtime Vermont House of Representatives Clerk Donald George Milne, who also served as state representative from Washington, died Sunday at the age of 81 surrounded by his family after a short battle with cancer, according to his son.
Milne, a Republican from Orange County, was born in Barre on July 16, 1934. He was educated at local public schools before graduating from Boston University and New York Law School. Milne was married to the late Marion Carson Milne, also a former state representative, until her death in August 2014. They had four children together — Chris Milne, Cathy Frey and Scott Milne, the Vermont Republican Party’s 2014 gubernatorial nominee. Milne was predeceased by one son, Keith.
Scott Milne said Monday his father was diagnosed about three weeks ago with advanced metastatic cancer.
“These three weeks were a short final chapter of a full, rich life dedicated to
family and his community,” Scott Milne wrote in an email announcing his father’s death.
Milne stepped down as House clerk last October as his health deteriorated. He was first elected to the position in 1993 and re-elected by unanimous vote every legislative biennium until his retirement. Milne first worked in the State House as the second assistant clerk after finishing law school. He also worked as a staff member for the Senate.
Milne was the longest serving Selectboard member in the town of Washington’s history, according to Scott Milne. He and Marion were named “Citizens of the Year” in 2010 and
recognized for their decades of service to the town.
Milne’s history includes some interesting chapters. He served just one year in the House when his term was interrupted in 1966 by criminal charges. Milne was charged with embezzling funds from legal clients an forging signatures. He argued at trial that he believed he had the authority to deal with the funds.
A jury found him guilty, however, and sentenced him to four to six years in prison. He was also disbarred as an attorney.
Milne escaped from the Vermont prison he was jailed a few months into his sentence only to turn himself a day later. Milne said he was attempting to get his finances in order. Milne ended up serving 18 months in prison before he was granted parole.
Former Democratic Gov. Madeleine Kunin eventually pardoned Milne in 1991, after he was already serving as the assistant House clerk. Milne would go on to become a public servant respected across the political spectrum.
Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a statement Monday hailing Milne’s service to the state.
“Don was a well-known and friendly face at the State House for decades. Don and his wife Marion exemplified what public service is about in Vermont. They cared deeply for their community and state and gave back more than anyone could expect of them. My thoughts are with the Milne family today,” Shumlin said.
Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith said Milne had a deep understanding of House rules that he relied on during their overlapping tenures.
“I am saddened to learn of the loss of Don Milne. Don was a devoted public servant who served Vermont with great distinction. He loved his job as Clerk of the House, and it showed. As Speaker, I relied on Don’s remarkable knowledge of the rules and customs of the House,” Smith said. “But it was Don’s love of Vermont and knowledge of the Green Mountains that will leave a great, lasting legacy. We have lost a Vermont treasure. My thoughts go out to Don’s friends and family.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott recalled Milne as public servant who left “a lasting imprint.”
“Don’s life and career serve as a reminder of the importance of public service. His impact on the legislative process and his work behind-the-scenes in the House of Representatives made a lasting imprint on our State’s political history; he was a calming force during some of our most tumultuous times and his presence in the Chamber served as a quiet reminder to all that they were there to do the people’s work.
Milne’s family is planning to hold a wake in Barre on Friday followed by a funeral service at Barre’s First Presbyterian Church on Saturday.
“Don was a confident, humble, hard-working, and non-judgmental person. He led not with words, but by a great example of the possibilities of a life well-lived,” Milne’s obituary states.