I can remember when Sargent Shriver came to . . . . Johnson was running for president still. It must have been ’67, late, and then he pulled out. Or maybe it was for Humphrey. Anyway, Sargent Shriver showed up in Durham, New Hampshire. So we all went over—not we all—but a number of us went over. And that was at the time when Shriver and the president were saying, “We can have guns and butter both.” That was the big debate: can you have guns for Vietnam and butter for the War on Poverty?
Practically everybody who was active in 1968 is no longer playing anything more serious than backgammon these days, but . . . . It was a beginning in Vermont. Vermont was changing anyway. It was changing because people were coming in. Changing as a result of education. What used to be available only in a small community, such as certain kinds of music became statewide. And there was some interest in fledgling theaters that started about that time. And when I say “that time,” I’m generally referring to ’65 to ’75. We always think about “the ‘60s,” but, actually, there was probably more turmoil in the early ‘70s than in the ‘60s itself.
I tell this story about Shriver often. He had a guy who was his assistant. “Woody” was his nickname. And he was standing beside Shriver. And somebody would get up and say, “Mr. Shriver, do you know what they did in Albany or someplace?” And then he’d tell some horror story about how the Community Action agency had offended the sensibilities of somebody or other. And Shriver would say, “Do we do that, Woody?”
And Woody’d say, “Yeah.”
“We’re not going to do that anymore. Next question.” [laughs]
Sargent Shriver himself was a magnificent leader. I saw him when he was campaigning in Vermont. In 1970 . . . . ’76, I think, he ran for President. And Brian Burns, who was Lieutenant Governor in Vermont, had already signed on to be Shriver’s guy in Burlington. So, he called me up and he said, “Will you take him around and take care of him in Barre?”
And I said, “Oh, sure.” I had no idea how to do it. But I met with Shriver and maybe one of his people. Plus, he had two or three Secret Service agents with him, protecting him, supposedly. I can remember we had a meeting with labor leaders at the Brown Derby in Montpelier. And Shriver was great. Didn’t matter who he was talking to. He was just plain good.
So I took him out that night. We went to the bowling alleys. I remember he threw a ball in the bowling alley, and it went down the gutter at the Twin City Lanes down here. And that brought a big laugh.
Finally at around 11:30, we went to the Snowmobilers Ball at the Auditorium. And Shriver was a good looking man. And there had been a fair amount of liquor that the ladies had been drinking, and they all descended on him. And he’s lucky he got out of there alive, because Shriver was a straight arrow.
When we were all done that, I had to take him back to Montpelier, to the Brown Derby where he was staying. There were about five cars of us in this troop. I was in the car with Shriver in the front car, with the Secret Service and so on. And just as we went . . . . We just started, drove by McDonald’s, which is more or less where it is now, on the Barre-Montpelier Road. And Shriver says, “Geez, what I need, a Big Mac.” So–I don’t remember whether I was driving or not. I think I was driving. And I had to take, make a big u-turn at 12:30 Saturday night and swing back, go back down the road a quarter of a mile and come back into McDonald’s. And we parked the car, and we went into McDonald’s.
Well, there was only two people in there, two customers. And there was one or two people behind the counter. So we walked in. And I was feeling quite buoyant. We’d had a lot of fun. Shriver made a lot of friends, actually. So I walked up to two young men who were sitting at a table looking a little glazed. I said, “Hey, fellows. Want to meet Sargent Shriver. He’s running for President.”
“Oh,” they said. “President of what?”
I said, “President of the United States.”
The kid says, “You gonna legalize marijuana?”
Shriver says, “We’re going to sell it on the White House lawn.”
The fastest comeback in history. Selling marijuana on the White House lawn was not part of conventional wisdom at that time. But that was the reaction.
And the next day, he got up at 6 o’clock in the morning, I’m told. He went to church. He always went to church. He did everything right by the so-called book and went over to Goddard. And Goddard was very pluralistic, to put it mildly. Goddard always had a rancorous reputation having to do with everything from drugs to crazy curriculums to sex to you know what. And this was at the beginning of that time or maybe in the middle of that time. But Shriver handled himself very well.
I loved Shriver. He had a zest for life, and what was right and what was wrong, and how you get things done.
Tom Davis was a seventeenth generation Vermonter, political activist, public speaker, storyteller, author, and statesman. Also known as “Tom Terrific,” he was widely admired for his quick wit, humor, humility, kindness, wisdom, and generosity. He valued tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and activity and lived his life accordingly. Tom's Bio and Photo Album →
In 2013, Tom Davis hired me to record his recollections and thoughts. I was serving on the Barre Historical Society (BHS) board with Tom. Years before, I had interviewed him about the early days of skiing in Vermont for the Vermont Historical Society and knew him to be an engaging story teller and welcoming person. At BHS meetings I found him to be committed to Barre, social justice, and working people as well. One night, Tom told me that, after having written three books about Barre and people he had known and worked with (and two political mystery novels), he was, at age 82, tired of writing but had more to say. I was honored when he asked me to interview him and to record his memories.
Tom called our sessions “interviews,” but little interviewing was necessary. Tom and I would meet in the conference room at Barre’s Aldrich Public Library and, after I’d set up and found a chair for him that didn’t squeak and he’d adjusted his hearing aids to prevent feedback, I’d ask a question, and off he’d go, speaking freely, keenly, and with gentle humor, while I mostly just sat and listened.
One session led to another. Eventually I had recorded 25 hours of Tom’s recollections about people he’d known, events he’d witnessed and participated in, and changes he’d seen. He also spoke about his love of baseball, skiing, and golf, about the importance of music, and about a world and state that are radically different from the ones he entered in 1931. I found his words illuminating and inspiring, and I admired his deep commitment to Vermont and Barre and, beyond that, to human understanding, fairness, and kindness. It was quickly clear that Tom had a prodigious memory and genuinely cared about the people who had passed through his lifetime of public service—whether a governor, a teacher, a granite worker, or an interviewer.
Tom was also a champion of life-long learning–for himself as well as for others. “Education doesn’t begin and end with the benchmarks of man,” he told my microphone. “Life is education. I may be wrong, but it seems that I’m never going to be able to catch up with what I need to know.”
He also had his peeves, especially partisan politics, income inequality, and the domination of social service programs by office-bound bureaucrats who had little interest in learning directly from the people they purportedly served.
Tom came to his increasingly progressive views without recourse to ideology and despite the leanings of some family and friends. He admired both his Republican father and Franklin Roosevelt and, after a brief flirtation with far-right conservatism while a student at UVM, saw the need for society to stand up for those without voice or opportunity. He was puzzled by people who “could give ten dollars to one man but wouldn’t give one dollar to ten men.” He, on the other hand, had “never been able to walk by somebody who needs a dollar.”
Tom and I discussed what to do with these recordings and decided that a section of the Barre Historical Society’s Old Labor Hall Web site would be an appropriate place for audio segments, transcripts, and photographs. Tom had a deep commitment to the Barre Historical Society and to the Socialist Labor Party Hall, which the BHS owns, maintains, and uses for a variety of community and educational events. The generosity of several folks who also want others to be able to benefit from Tom’s memories and wisdom has now made that site a reality.
The audio segments and transcriptions on this site have been edited for economy and clarity, while still retaining Tom’s warm, thoughtful voice. Some draw on multiple times that Tom spoke about a topic or told a story, and I’ve tried to edit and weave them into a single narrative. Some of Tom’s recollections also appear in his books and in the three commentaries he recorded for Vermont Public Radio in the months before his death.
The complete 25 hours of interviews also cover much more territory, and new segments may appear in the future. Unfortunately, we never got to some topics, including golf, skiing, and chess–three of Tom’s great passions. At some point, we hope that the full transcript will also be available, whether on this site or through a suitable archive.
It has been a pleasure and honor to work on this project. Tom Davis enriched my life. I hope he will contribute to yours as well.
Mark Greenberg, Montpelier VT, April 2020
Tom talks about life in his home town of Barre, Vermont.
The Community was Alive - Barre Memories (Part 1)
Barre life in the 1930s and '40s
A Melting Pot - Barre Memories (Part 2)
Ethnic diversity and street life in Barre
It was a Magnet
Tom talks about his family.
My Mother Was More Liberal
A Fair-minded Person
I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History (Part 1)
I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History (Part 2)
\"My Mother Was More Liberal\" — Corinne Eastman Davis
Tom\'s mother and her family
A Fair-minded Person – Deane Davis
Tom\'s father\'s family and his politics.
I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History, Part1
Tom looks back on the early history of the Davis family in America.
I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History, Part 2
Tom brings his family history to his own generation.
The politicians Tom knew and worked for and the programs he helped them implement
The Beginning of Change
FDR’s visit to central Vermont
He Wasn’t Afraid to Lose
Governor Phil Hoff
A Magnificent Leader
Sargent Shriver in Vermont
A Sense of Mission
Tom's experiences as Vermont's Secretary of Human Services
Involve the Poor – The Poverty Program (Part 1)
Vermont and the War on Poverty
True Believers—The Poverty Program (Part 2)
Directing the Office of Economic Opportunity and working across party lines
Somebody Met the Bus - Shorty and Joe
The importance of human relationships in social work
A Great Education
Working in Windsor Prison and for The Vermont Alcohol Rehabilitation Board
Tom talks about his love of baseball.
A Preferred Leisure – Baseball
From Barre youth teams to the University of Vermont
A Bunch of White Guys
Tom at the University of Vermont
- Beyond Depot Square: Stories from the Heart of Vermont, self-published, 2006
- Echoes of Vermont . . . People and Politics in the Green Mountains, self-published, 2010
- Out from Depot Square: Central Vermont Memories from the 1930s to the 1950s, self-published, 2006
- The Duval Conspiracy, Marshall Jones Company, 1995
- The Governor’s Man, self-published, 2002
- Deane C. Davis, with Nancy Price Graff – Deane C. Davis: An Autobiography, The New England Press, 1991
- Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions, Jeffrey Potash – Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont, Vermont Historical Society, 2004
- Paul Heller – Granite City Tales: Writings on the History of Barre, Vermont, self-published, 2012
- Russell Belding – Hidden History of Barre, Vermont, The History Press, 2011
Many thanks to the people who helped make this project possible:
Gerry Ghazi, Alban Richey, Arthur & Anita Ristau, Bruce Seifer, Carol Healy, Clare & David Duke, David & Nancy Lacroix, Edith A Miller, Elizabeth Slayton, Ellen S. Sivret, Fernand & Ann Peloquin, Joanne Granai, Karen Lane, Marjorie Power, Mary Miller, Maureen Morton, Maurice & Doris Fortier, Paul C Heller, Peter Anthony & Marsha Kincheloe, Quinn Premont, River Valley Workforce Institute, Ruth Ruttenberg, Stephen Martin, Wayside Restaurant, Inc., William & Olene Doyle, and the Aldrich Public Library
- Project & Web site producer: Mark Greenberg
- Web site design and implementation: Marjorie Power
- Interviews recorded and edited by Mark Greenberg/Upstreet Productions
- Interview transcriber: Katherine Drury
- Davis family photographs and memorabilia courtesy Mike Davis and the Davis family
- Tom Davis Labor Hall photo: Mark Greenberg
- Aldrich Public Library, Vermont Historical Society, World Wide Web