Hundreds gathered at Rutland’s Grace Congregational Church today to say goodbye to Jim Jeffords, who died Monday at age 80.
Vermont’s Congressional delegation stood alongside family, friends and neighbors to celebrate Jeffords' political contributions, his military service and what nearly all described an extraordinary life of service.
Jeffords' flag draped coffin stood just in front of the altar surrounded by flowers and the voices of the Grace Church choir.
Reverend Steven Berry joked that under different circumstances, Jeffords, who loved to sing, would probably have liked to go up to the balcony to join the group.
Jeffords grew up in Rutland and the pews were packed with long time friends and neighbors. George Hansen, one of several speakers, told the crowd that he first met Jeffords in Sunday school at Grace Church when they were both about four. Hansen said the two became life long friends and he spoke proudly of Jeffords’ many accomplishments.
“From Jimmy to Jim, to Gentlemen Jim,to Jeezum Jim. . . from husband to father to naval captain to Attorney General to Congressman to United States senator - we say well done classmate, well done best friend, well done good and faithful servant,” said Hansen.
Jeffords' life in politics kept him in the public eye but son Leonard says to him, he was just pop.
Leonard Jeffords said his father was always incredibly supportive of both him and his sister Laura, attending his baseball and hockey games and her tennis matches. “One of my earliest memories was when I was about 5,” said Leonard. “He was my hockey coach in Montpelier but he couldn’t skate.
Leonard recalled how important it was for both his parents to connect with friends when they were home in Shrewsbury and how his dad enjoyed simple pleasures like chopping wood, playing cards or tinkering with machines.
He said one of his dad’s favorite things was riding his ford tractor. “My father loved this tractor so much he was an easy target for our annual April fools joke and we got my mother in on this and I called him and said ‘pop, you left the keys in the tractor and someone stole it and they wrecked it.’ And he was so upset he called my mother and she said, Jim, I can’t talk right now the state police are here . . . and then the words came April fools.”
Former governor Jim Douglas fondly recalled Jeffords' unpretentious, matter of fact leadership style and praised his early concern for the environment. He reminded those at the funeral that Jeffords had a guiding hand in crafting legislation that led Vermont to ban billboards. “I often wonder what Vermont would look like today without the efforts of Jim Jeffords.”
Douglas got laughs from the crowd when he reminded them that Jeffords had brought action against International Paper for discharging harmful waste into Lake Chaplain. “Remember the ad that ran back then? Jeffords won’t let them do it in the lake.”
“Jim personally was a dear friend in a world where they can be hard to find,” said Douglas. You know what they say - in politics if you want a friend, get a dog. Well I don’t have a dog, but for many years I had Jim.”
Douglas said many have described Jeffords as one of the last of a dying breed - a politician who could work with others and who was more concerned with issues and ideas than with glory. Douglas told the crowd that he couldn’t help but yearn for more statesmen like Jeffords saying the mark he leaves behind is indelible.
After the 90-minute service, a Navy honor guard provided military honors for the late senator. Jeffords will be buried later this weekend in Shrewsbury next to his late wife Liz.