I went to work for an organization known as the Alcoholic Rehabilitation Board in 1961, which was basically the only anti-drug or counseling program in the state.
We had five or six people on the board. All of them greatly interested in the subject, from one perspective or another. In most cases, they were members of AA. AA had a strong influence on the direction of what later became alcoholism treatment. There was no treatment in those days.
Mental Health didn’t want anything to do with alcoholics because there was no money in it.
I think I started in May or something like that in 1961 and was asked to take over the Springfield office. I don’t know that I’d ever been to Springfield in my life when I went down there. But I quickly made acquaintanceships throughout Windsor County.
It’s a different place in government when you’re working away from Montpelier. I sometimes think the further they get from Montpelier, the better the programs are and the more self-sufficient the communities are. Where I’ve observed it was in Brattleboro, for one place, and Bennington, for another, which is the two significant communities of any size furthest from Montpelier. And in both of those communities, it seemed to me that community organizations and resource people were just more readily available to help or to start programs or to be part of whatever was going on. But that’s certainly an observation that I can’t prove. It’s simply an observation.
I can remember walking in the office in 1961 in Springfield. I went in, and I sat down, and I said to myself, “Now, I wonder what an alcoholism counselor is supposed to do (laugh).” But I was hired and given a half a dozen books on alcoholism to read and talked with those that were already working in the field along with the director of the office at the time, a man by the name of Joe Verdery.
That was my training. There was no training in counseling. There was no prescription as to what you were supposed to do, whether you were supposed to follow some sort of mental health model, an AA model, a vocational rehabilitation model. There were five of us or six when I started, and we all had a sort of different emphasis and different style.
I used to spend a lot of time getting my clients–I never used that word–oriented or acquainted with AA. I also spent a lot of time looking for jobs and finding contacts. I developed contacts fairly fast down there, of people who would hire people and take a chance.
I learned an awful lot about me, but I learned an awful lot about a part of the world that I had never understood, and I’m sure most people don’t understand it until they’re exposed to it. Everything I’ve learned about human services pretty much I learned in that job in 1961. I learned that poor people didn’t have money (laugh), that poor people were poor. I learned that we didn’t have enough good jobs in Vermont for the people we had. I learned that we had really a high degree of poverty, rural type poverty in Vermont. I learned that the communities themselves had a supportive quality for all its citizens. I mean, most people stayed in the same place. There was far less mobility in the population. But by and large, through trial and error, I think what I learned most was how to interact with people and how to not irritate people in trying to get them off the booze.
It was a long way from where I lived. I lived in Barre, and I was commuting to Springfield. And I didn’t find a very suitable living arrangement for during the week in Springfield. It’s easier to beg forgiveness than get permission, so I moved the office to Windsor and got a room that I could stay in during the week. And at the same time, I got involved with working in the prison and with the prison resource people.
This is a different scale of numbers than in the current time. When I went to Windsor to work, I think there were 200 inmates. That was pretty much it, other than county jails around the state. They did have the prison farm, which was the more open kind of community, where if you wanted to walk away, you pretty much could and somebody’d bring you back. Oftentimes they would move someone who was going to go out into the community. They would put them in the prison farm and bring them to a better state of readiness to get out of there.
I never became an expert on prisons. I met some great people there. The warden was a great guy, Bob Smith, rehabilitation-oriented all the way. Used to ask me to lunch whenever I was in the area. And I gotta tell you, they fed me pretty good in Vermont State Prison and House of Correction.
I became interested in how many people who were incarcerated at that time were sentenced to jail, for whatever crime, because they had been drinking or were using alcohol excessively, or whatever. And I undertook a review, you might call it. I interviewed 80 percent of the people in Windsor. Well, first of all, it was clear that of the people that were there, easily 50 percent were there with alcohol involved problems. You want to call them alcoholics or not, you get into definitional problems. I wouldn’t say that 50 percent were necessarily alcoholic. But a significant portion were. And I learned about how people, very much unlike me in many ways, lived and came to be where they were. I mean, there were people there who customarily would bust a store glass window in order to be sentenced to Windsor, so they’d have a place to stay in the winter. That same kind of activity that took place around the state in county jails. In many county jails, you’d find the sheriff was almost a father figure to many of these people, many of them who were intellectually, physically, and socially unable to care for themselves or take care of themselves in any way that would satisfy the world.
I learned a lot there. I started two or three different groups—one at the prison farm, one in the big house itself. Got to know the guards. And, of course, the biggest problem that anyone has who goes to prison is coming out.
Taking people out of prison and finding them jobs was not an easy task in the 1960s or late ‘50s. Vermont was not growing. There was no sense of movement. Where we see pretty houses out in the country now all over the place, that was not the case in 1961. There was a lot of dilapidated, and there was poverty-type housing all over the state. And the stereotype of beautiful Vermont with its pristine homes was fueled during the ‘60s and fueled, I think, in part by a housing boom which occurred at that time.
So it was a great education. I learned, I think, quite a bit about Vermont. I went everywhere. In fact, they didn’t have much of a program in New Hampshire. Now it can be told: I went across the river and worked to a certain extent.
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