Former Speaker of the House Timothy O'Connor of Brattleboro has died.
O'Connor made history in 1975 when he became the first democrat to be elected house speaker in more than a century, and he was the Brattleboro Town Meeting moderator for more than two decades.
O'Connor was born in Brattleboro, and whether he was wielding the gavel at town meeting, serving in the Vermont House of Representatives, or working at his law practice, O'Connor always had the people of Windham County in mind.
"Losing Tim is a huge loss to Vermont, to Windham County, and to Brattleboro," said former democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. "He was Mr. Brattleboro."
When Shumlin was a young college student working on Tom Salmon's run for U.S. Senate, he says O'Connor was a local political legend who always had time to lend a hand and offer advice.
"What I remember most about him was that he had his own battles to fight, but I was just amazed at the time; the thought, the caring that he gave to a guy who didn't really know what he was doing," Shumlin says. "He helped me in so many ways in that campaign, and I was often puzzled that he was taking the time to do it."
O'Connor was a Democrat and he was first elected to the Vermont House in 1968, at a time when the Legislature was heavily Republican.
He quickly positioned himself as someone who could work across the aisle and he was elected Speaker of the House in 1975, even though the opposition party was in the majority.
Former House Speaker and fellow Windham County Democrat, Mike Obuchowski says the fact that O'Connor was re-elected house speaker by the Republican majority speaks volumes for the respect he earned within the Statehouse.
"I learned a great deal from Tim," Obuchowski says. "Especially about respecting the membership, protecting the minority, and bringing as much consensus to the situation as one could."
O'Connor served on the state mental health board and the University of Vermont Board of Trustees.
He gave up his post as town moderator in 2013, after being elected by Brattleboro voters for 22 consecutive years.
"During his distinguished careers in the public and private sectors, Speaker O’Connor was known for his kindness, fairness, and pragmatic leadership," current House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said in a prepared statement.
"In his years leading the Vermont House, his unrivaled ability to build consensus and find common ground earned him genuine respect and support from all sides of the aisle. His characteristic passion for fairness and his heartfelt kindness over his many decades of service to Brattleboro and to Vermont will have a notably positive impact on the lives of Vermonters for many years to come. Vermont will miss Timothy O’Connor dearly.”
O'Connor was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage.
For years he co-hosted an Irish music program on a local radio station on St. Patrick's Day, and traveled every few years back to the Emerald Isle.
At the opening of the 2010 biennium the Legislature honored O'Connor with a House resolution recognizing his decades of service to the people of Vermont.
He died Tuesday at the age of 81.