A Bunch of White Guys

Tom at the University of Vermont

Postcard of University of Vermont buildings from 1940s
Postcard of University of Vermont campus from the 1940s
Postcard showing the University of Vermont library and Ethan Allen Chapel in the 1940s
Consuelo Northrup Bailey, first woman Lieutenant Governor of Vemont
Consuelo Northrup Bailey, first woman Lieutenant Governor of Vemont

I entered the University in ‘49 and took a liberal arts education. I avoided, like the plague, anything having to do with math, which I wish I didn’t, in retrospect, because I probably had some talent in that regard that I didn’t even know I had. Of course, I took philosophy and English and geology–and German. I took German four years and managed to pass two of them. The reason I took German was I thought it was the closest thing to Latin, and I had done moderately well in Latin in high school. The German professor I had had come over from Germany, but just before the war. And it turns out he was a rabbi. He told us a lot about the Jewish religion and about Germany. And while I didn’t learn much German from him, I got a real sense of him, the man, who was a wonderful man, and to some extent what was going on in Germany.

My interest right from the get-go was in economics and political science, which I think is really one field, not two. John Stewart Mill, I think it was, called it “political economy,” and most everybody else did too. In all my years of UVM, I had two professors who really made an impression on me. Neither one, I might add, made tenure, which I’m not sure what that says, but we should think about it.

One was a man named Jim Peterson in economics, and I learned more economics in one class with him than I learned with five with anybody else. And the other guy was in political theory, was a man named Bill Steele. I don’t know that Bill ever said what political version he came from, but he was a brilliant teacher.

In the beginning I moved way to the right. I read Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action. You know, sort of the bible of fascism is what it was. But a scholarly work. God, it was 600 pages. I don’t think I’ve read a book of 600 pages since then.

My economics professor, Jim Peterson, he was very liberal, very, very smart. God, he couldn’t have been more than 24, 5 years old, as I think of it, at the time. I became passionate about economics and economic theory. I was invited to his house once or twice. I think his wife would have said that she was a communist. I may be wrong on that. He was not. He called himself a “scientific positivist.” I learned a lot about economic theory, and I became a full-blown Keynesian and still am.

Then my senior year I took a course in political theory. There was about 12 of us in the class, all interesting people, men and women. I became as interested in that aspect of why people do what they do politically and so on, and Steele did a wonderful job. He would go over each of the great political philosophers, convince us completely that this guy really knew what he was talking about, and then destroy the guy’s arguments as best he could. That’s not a nice word to use with Bill because he was not a destroyer. He was a builder of people.

I was just very slowly moving to what some people call “the left.” I mean toward a populist, humanist orientation. But I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be.

I got out of college too fast. I should have had to use four more years to somehow integrate what I knew with the world I was going to have to deal with. And I think education today is a terrible waste of money for an awful lot of people because of the way it’s designed. People become famous, they become rich, and they build a building. They need more buildings like we need more wars. I’m overwhelmed at the University, the number of buildings. They need to learn how to take their education and create educational settings, dynamic settings, move people around, put them in different cultures, if you will, or at least different parts of the country, or at least different parts of Vermont.

I know, when I was at UVM, I knew one black guy. And when I think of how few black people . . . . I didn’t know anybody of Spanish origin other than from Spain. We were all a bunch of white guys, and we thought we were going to run things forever.

The women did very well in Vermont up against very tough odds. Consuelo Northrup Bailey was Lieutenant Governor. Had she been a man, she would have been elected governor in a walk when she left. I didn’t know her. But the fact is, almost into the ‘70s, a woman was supposed to be there with a notebook and a pencil, and the men, white guys with white shirts, were supposed to make the decisions.

And what’s so interesting about all this is the country itself is going through that kind of metamorphosis right now, and I think that the anger that is directed toward government, toward so-called liberals, people who want change . . . . I think a lot of that comes from frustration that, “Hey, we’re no longer in charge. We don’t run things. We have influence, but we don’t run things.” And white guys been running things for a long time, in Vermont and everywhere else, and it seems so natural. But if you really look at what’s going on in the country, I’m glad it’s not going to be that way anymore, because people will be judged more or less on their merit. And I hope people can come to understand that (chuckle) under our skin we all got the same DNA practically. So there you go.

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 →

Interviewing Tom

Tom Davis testifying against human services budget cuts - 2010In 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.

Mark Greenberg
Mark Greenberg

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.”

The Recordings

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.

Postcard of Mathewson School
The Community was Alive - Barre Memories (Part 1)
Barre life in the 1930s and '40s
Quarry workers with pneumatic tools - early 1900s
A Melting Pot - Barre Memories (Part 2)
Ethnic diversity and street life in Barre

Front entrance of Barre City Auditorium

It was a Magnet
The origins of the Barre Auditorium

Tom talks about his family.

Corinne Eastman Davis

My Mother Was More Liberal
Corinne Eastman Davis and her family

Deane Davis

A Fair-minded Person
Deane C. Davis' family and politics

Will Davis Farm, c. 1981

I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History (Part 1)
The early history of the Davis family in America

Corinne and Deane Davis with Tom's sister Marian and Tom as an infant

I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History (Part 2)
The Davis and Eastman families

The politicians Tom knew and worked for and the programs he helped them implement

President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Camp Charles M. Smith, CCC, Waterbury, Vt., on his tour of inspection of Vermont’s flood control projects, July 25, 1936.
The Beginning of Change
FDR’s visit to central Vermont
Phil Hoff celebrating his 1962 gubernatorial campaign victory in Winooski, VT
He Wasn’t Afraid to Lose
Governor Phil Hoff
Sargent Shriver campaing for Vice President in 1972
A Magnificent Leader
Sargent Shriver in Vermont
John Howland
A Sense of Mission
Tom's experiences as Vermont's Secretary of Human Services
Tom Davis and Phil Hoff
Involve the Poor – The Poverty Program (Part 1)
Vermont and the War on Poverty
Robert Gannett
True Believers—The Poverty Program (Part 2)
Directing the Office of Economic Opportunity and working across party lines
Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury
Somebody Met the Bus - Shorty and Joe
The importance of human relationships in social work
Windsor State Prison
A Great Education
Working in Windsor Prison and for The Vermont Alcohol Rehabilitation Board

Tom talks about his love of baseball.

Barre American Legion Baseball Team 1948-9
A Preferred Leisure – Baseball
From Barre youth teams to the University of Vermont

Jackie Robinson stealing a base from Phil Rizzuto in the 1947 Wold Series
A Hero of Mine – Jackie Robinson
Trips to major league baseball games and admiring Jackie Robinson

Postcard showing the University of Vermont library and Ethan Allen Chapel in the 1940s

A Bunch of White Guys
Tom at the University of Vermont

Recommended Reading

By Thomas C. Davis:

  • 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

By others:

  • 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