Vermonters came from all over the state to attend a celebration of the life of former United States Senator Jim Jeffords. The funeral, held at the Grace Congregational Church in downtown Rutland, honored one of the city's native sons. Jeffords died this week at a Washington, D.C. retirement home at age 80 following several years of declining health.
"One person can give their lives in service to others and change many lives for the better," the Rev. Steven Berry told Jeffords’ friends, relatives, and colleagues who packed the church pews Friday.
Jeffords was a longtime moderate, even liberal, Republican who served Vermont as a state senator and attorney general before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and later, to the U.S. Senate. He made national headlines in 2001 for changing the power structure in the Senate when he split with his party to become an Independent and caucus with the Democrats.
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Regardless of his affiliation, Vermonters knew Jeffords as a tireless advocate for the environment, for education, farmers, and people with disabilities.
"Jim's style of common-sense collaboration is found less and less in the corridors of power today," said Jim Douglas, Vermont's former Republican governor. "He's been described as one of the last of a dying breed. I can't help but yearn for more statesmen like Jim Jeffords."
Jeffords' children shared memories the public was unlikely to know: how the U.S. Navy veteran loved his pets, loved playing cards, and tinkering on his tractor. He also was notorious for spilling food his shirt, his daughter, Laura, remembered.
"My father hated the green bean casserole, because when he married my mom, that is all she knew how to cook," Laura Jeffords recalled from the church's pulpit, eliciting warm laughter from the funeral attendees.
"We loved to play Monopoly. We loved to play Risk," son Leonard Jeffords remembered. "Maybe this is where he got some of his deal-making skills, is playing with my sister and I."
Jeffords' longtime friend and colleague, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said folks who remember Jeffords as that guy who quit the GOP aren't getting the full picture: of a humble, principled man who worked hard for decades for the state he cherished.
"He cared about Vermont first and foremost," Leahy said after the funeral. "Those who knew him knew the human side was far, far more important than the political side."
After the funeral, Senator Jeffords was brought to nearby Shewsbury for a private burial. He was laid to rest in Northam Cemetery alongside his wife, Liz, according to Clifford Funeral Home.