On Monday, Sen. Patrick Leahy said it was time to come home. It was time, he said, to take his torch of leadership and hand it to whomever may follow in his footsteps. 

Time is that thief in the night that steals from us all. Including Mr. Leahy. For almost a half century he has represented Vermont in what is considered the most august of our institutions, the United States Senate. For almost 50 years he has weathered countless political storms, constitutional crises, and economic downturns. He has watched as the Senate evolved from the “golden years” of the ‘70s and ‘80s, to today’s tortured political divisiveness. It would age the strongest among us.  

Through it all, he kept Vermont’s interests foremost in his thoughts and actions. Of late, he’s stuffed billions of dollars in our state’s pockets. He has put us in the position of being a national leader on a variety of fronts. This has happened because of his seniority, and the power that comes from that seniority. 

For this reason, among many others, we have urged [selfishly] the senator to run for a ninth term. Vermont has more influence in the Senate today than any other state. For a small state, the impact of this influence has been monumental. 

What’s little understood, or appreciated, is that his influence goes far beyond what you read in the newspapers, or watch on a screen. One of the hallmarks of the Leahy years is the quality of the staff about him, and the relationships he’s built in every single Vermont hamlet. For half a century he has insisted on hiring the best and the brightest among us, understanding that progress comes program by program, person by person, layer by layer, and that it cannot be done alone. 

Whereas Mr. Leahy is identified with causes such as banning the export of land mines, presiding over an impeachment proceeding, aiding the unsung cause of our dairy farmers, championing our civil liberties, and advocating for  human rights around the world, the real work, the nitty gritty of a senator’s existence, takes place at the local level, through his staff. Every day.

Mr. Leahy, and his staff, for example, are responsible for taking an eight person immigration office in St. Albans and expanding it to a service that eventually employed over a thousand people. Multiply that sort of influence times Vermont’s 251 towns, times the 46 years Mr. Leahy has been in office and it’s apparent why we’re a bit anxious Mr. Leahy will be returning to Middlesex and not Washington D.C. next November.

People haven’t a clue as to his influence in each of our cities and towns. They couldn’t know. It happens in ways large and small, with programs unknown, and programs that involve countless thousands - like the SNAP program, or fighting for the health of Lake Champlain. Suffice to say that, yes, it’s always healthy in a democracy to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders, but, in the case of Mr. Leahy, it’s also important to acknowledge the massive contribution he, and his staff, have made, and continue to make, to the state of Vermont. It’s almost mathematically impossible for Vermont to ever again experience the sort of seniority we have now; we should be thankful for the time and place of our existence and for the leadership Mr. Leahy has provided.

 

A personal note: 

 

For this journalist, there is also a personal side to Mr. Leahy’s story. When he first went to Washington in 1974, as a United States senator, I was employed as a speechwriter for another United States senator just down the hall. When I left Washington for Vermont, and the St. Albans Messenger, I reached out to Mr. Leahy in hopes he could offer some advice and a touch of wisdom. He offered both. It was Mr. Leahy who tutored me on what I could expect and how I would be received. I began at the Messenger with an invaluable relationship that continues to this day, almost a half century later. [I continue to find it remarkable that journalists have the sort of access to their elected leaders that they have, and still do in Vermont.] 

For the 41 years I’ve been writing Messenger editorials Mr. Leahy has been that immovable force, that steadfast person always available to help, to provide perspective and to explain the nuances of the day’s issues. It’s one of the joys of the business to get to know people like Mr. Leahy, his wife, Marcelle, and his staff, and to tell their stories. It’s through such relationships that it becomes almost obligatory to push ourselves to be better. You see the good that can be done and you want that good to endure and to be passed on. 

So, to Patrick, Marcelle and his staff through the ages, thank you. Best of health. Welcome home.

by Emerson Lynn

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