11.21.2008

The shadow of George Aiken

In mid-November 1984, Vermonters were bringing the wood in, deer hunting in wool and dusting off their rear-entry boots for the upcoming ski season.

We also spent this third full week of November back then mourning the loss of George Aiken, who, other than Ethan Allen, is perhaps the one Vermonter who exerted the most influence on national affairs.

Aiken died on Nov. 19, 1984. He was Vermont's governor from 1937-41 and U.S. Senator from 1941-1975. He was a Republican - not a cigar-smoking, pro-business, big-oil loving, bomb-the-shit-out-of-them neocon - but a Vermont Republican.

We could explain in detail just how un-Republican Aiken was, but Shay Totten in this 2006 Vermont Guardian piece does a splendid job in describing a real, honest-to-goodness Republican "maverick."

He was an environmentalist, a proponent of Eastern wilderness, a fisherman, a man who could - and would - eloquently attest to the value of outdoors recreation. He wrote books about berries and wildflowers, was the first to utter the phrase "Northeast Kingdom" and a maple sugar maker.

There is a wilderness tract in the Green Mountain National Forest and a building in Burlington that houses most of the University of Vermont's School of Natural Resources named after him.

We might never see another George Aiken again. He was one of the few politicians who understood there are some of us who cannot live without wild things and wild places. He found a friend in the forests, tranquility in the mountains and peace in the brooks and streams.

He worked to preserve Vermont's outdoor legacy for all of us - R or D, hunter or bunny hugger, farmer or mill worker. No, there weren't many like George Aiken, but there's even less a chance that somebody like him will surface on the national political scene ever again.

We have just quietly passed the 24th anniversary of George Aiken's death. We miss him today more than ever.

- MC

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