One way or another, Don Webster has always been on the move.
Here are just some of the paths he's followed in his 76 years: High school teacher. Hamilton College political science professor. Executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. Campaign manager for Tom Salmon's 1972 run for governor. Staffer in Salmon's administration. Co-owner of WKVT in Brattleboro. Elementary school superintendent in Bennington and Rutland. State legislator. Chairman of Building a Better Brattleboro. Board member of Vermont Blue Cross Blue Shield. Husband. Father. Grandfather.
Is it any wonder that when the idea came to him earlier this year to walk every single road on the Brattleboro town map, Don thought, "Why
"It was pure whimsy, really," he says, sitting in his cheerful, book-lined living room. Long legs crossed, he rests his arms on his chair. He looks down for a moment, his gaze turned inward. He looks up and smiles, his eyes bright as a new dandelion, his aspect as thoughtful as an old maple tree. "I've been walking for a while now, for health reasons. I was a little overweight and a series of glucose tests came back a little high," he says. "It was nothing radical, what my doctor suggested: walk more and watch what you eat."
So Don started to walk. He had several routes around town, and he and his wife, Beverly, walked two of their grandchildren to school each day. He averaged six miles daily.
But he was not exactly having the
The exercise and dietary changes, however, started to pay off, and Don steadily lost about 20 pounds. More fit and looking for ways to make the walks more interesting for himself, he decided to tackle Brattleboro's roads. He started in April of this year.
Don researched the town's Grand List to make sure he accounted for all the roads. He procured a map from the town office and began tracing completed routes in thin red marker.
He found pedometers to be unreliable, so he counted the number of strides it took to go around the Brattleboro Union High School track once and used that figure as a rough mileage guide.
He laughs. "Yes, I counted every single one of my steps. It got to be that I'd be walking to visit a friend and I'd catch myself going "twenty-one, twenty-two...'"
Don walked most days, talking time off to rest sore knees or feet, for other commitments, and for family time. For most walks, he left from his front porch, though on occasion he would have his wife, Beverly, drop him off and pick him up.
In three months, the map was covered in spidery red lines, and Don had walked about 117 miles.
"I finished on June 9," he says. "My birthday. I still have one road to do that may or may not be private, so I'll need to find out if I can walk it, but by and large, yes, it is done."
He pauses. "Pure whimsy. Serendipity, in a way. A lot of my life, my career, has been guided by serendipity, as I think back on it. I wandered, you could say."
It's true that Don followed interesting opportunities that came before him, sometimes forsaking stability and familiarity in the process. It's true that academia, politics, radio station ownership and school superintendentship are not obviously related. It's true that Don's mother would sometimes look at him when he announced another adventure, shake her
"I think my wife did that sometimes, too," Don says, his smile tinged with humor and rue.
His career bounced around, as he put it, but it is also true that all the wanderings were shoots of one path, guided by Don's intelligence and curiosity, and his devotion to his family and his communities, large and small. It was a path that sought always to do good.
"My father was a very important influence on me." He nods quickly.
"He was the conference minister for the United Church of Christ in Vermont." He grins. "I would call him 'the Bishop' when I wanted to irritate him."
Growing up in Burlington during World War II, Don watched his father work constantly on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged and the persecuted.
"He worked to bring displaced persons from Eastern Europe to the States after the war," Don remembers. "Can you imagine that? This was at the height of McCarthyism. If you were from Eastern Europe, you were a Communist or a Marxist, that was it! And he managed to sponsor and host seven or eight displaced persons himself."
Don laughs and shakes his head. "I don't know how he did that. You had to prove you had the economic means to support each person, and well, he was a minister, after all!"
Social justice became the blaze for Don's varied professional life, whether he was working to help towns manage sprawl, sponsoring legislation to support downtown development, overseeing emergency flood response in 1973, or negotiating with labor unions in the school districts.
Doing right by the world remains close to his heart, as he walks and walks the Brattleboro roads.
"You have a lot of time to think when you walk," he says. "I've composed many letters-to-the-editor in my head, and some speeches for Obama, too."
He is quiet for a moment. "I believe these are perilous times. I don't think democracy can succeed with such disparity of wealth as we are experiencing. It's a little frustrating to be at my age and not be able to do much about it, and I wonder sometimes if I could have chosen differently in my life to be in a position to do something. But I do what I can, I try to use my experience and understanding to do what I can."
He takes a last swallow of black tea from a clear glass mug and stands. He will leave for the day's walk soon.
"It's been fun," Don says. "All these wanderings. Yes, it's been fun."
Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer. To suggest people for this column, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.