BELLOWS FALLS — Nothing but positive words were spoken about Michael J. Obuchowski at the first ever "Obie Awards," on the evening of Dec. 12.
At the American Legion, the Windham County Democratic Committee held the 2015 Obie Awards Dinner, an event titled in Obuchowski's honor to acknowledge his years of public service. Statewide Democratic elected officials, candidates, legislators and friends of Obuchowski spoke about his positive impact on their personal and political lives.
"As a legislator who worked with him, there was a gravitational pull to the solidity of community values when Obie was around," said Congressman Peter Welch. "And that's the kind of contribution an individual makes when they're really anchored in the community they represent."
Bellows Falls native Michael J. "Obie" Obuchowski, currently serving as Vermont Commissioner of Buildings and General Services, was a representative in the Vermont Legislature for nearly four decades, representing Windham 3, which includes Rockingham, Athens, Grafton, Brookline, Windham and part of Westminster. He also served three terms as Speaker of the House.
Continually, speakers mentioned the level-headed advice that they received from Obuchowski regarding servitude. It was also clear that he was well respected and trusted as some said they felt at ease when Obuchowski was present in the State House.
"Obie asked the one question, 'How is this going to effect Mrs. Murphy,'" said Welch about Obie who made up a fictional local when discussing the deregulation of all utilities. "That was the right question, because when you ask the question it took away all the smoke, and in fact 'Mrs. Murphy' was going to get hammered, and Obie had to stand against the enormous pressure in that building when something became conventional wisdom." According to Welch, at that time, when Obuchowski was Speaker of the House, he was able to stand up and say no, even if the majority was leaning the other direction. "He was always there to represent Mrs. Murphy and nothing could distract his will to represent her."
Those at the honorary event enjoyed a catered meal by Tristan Toleno's catering company, Entera. In addition, Toleno was the recipient of Legislator of the Year award that evening for his work on the Vermont bill that guarantees paid sick leave for most Vermont workers.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Gov. Peter Shumlin were unable to make the event, but they did put together a speech that was read at Saturday's meeting.
"Obie is synonymous with public service and most deserving of a lifetime achievement award," said Shumlin in a letter that was read by state Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham District. "I can think of no one else from southeastern Vermont that has dedicated their life to improving the lives of not only his constituents but of all Vermonters."
During the dinner, three other awards were presented — Windham County Democrat of the Year, Activist of the Year and Legislator of the Year. Windham County Democrat of the year was awarded to Sharry Manning.
"Sharry was just always eager to roll up her sleeves and get to work in everywhere possible," said Brandon Batham, Obie Award host and current chair of the Windham County Democratic Committee, who worked with Manning during the campaign for state Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham District.
The title of Activist of the Year was awarded to Ann Braden for her work with Gun Sense Vermont, a coalition of Vermonters who work together to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Braden founded this group.
"She courageously stepped up to fight the NRA's machine," said Balint about Braden. "She was personally attacked, threatened and disparaged, but throughout she showed grit, strength, leadership, determination and civility — always civility. I am proud to call Ann Braden my friend, and she is truly one of my heroes."
State Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, presented the Legislator of the Year award to Toleno. "The bill he put forward last year and ushered through the House for paid sick leave, is an example of someone standing up for working people," said Mrowicki.
Other speakers throughout the evening including Democratic governor candidates Matt Dunne and Sue Minter as well as those running for Lieutenant Governor — Kesha Ram, Brandon Riker and David Zuckerman. TJ Donovan spoke and about his candidacy for the position of Attorney General.
Though there was some obvious attention drawn to the Democratic candidates, they all had some positive comments to add about their experiences with Obuchowski. Some mentioned that whenever Obuchowski had the floor, the room would fall silent as they listened to him speak.
State Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham 3, presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Obuchowski and described her years of work alongside him. Partridge said that Obuchowski wants to be remembered as having been fair and just and that he tended away from punishing people. Partridge highlighted some of his accomplishments — adding water resources to the Fish and Water Life Committee, his efforts for the Vilas Bridge as well as with Route 121. Aside from sharing his accomplishments she shared stories that filled the room with laughter — one about a Bantam Rooster and another about Obuchowski dressing up as Santa during the holiday season.
Partridge was given a warm standing ovation after she concluded her speech and welcomed Obuchowski to the podium.
"I'll try to be short because normally Jack (his five-year-old son) and I would be sleeping by now, It's been awhile since we've both seen 8:30 p.m. together," said Obuchowski. The crowd laughed and then fell silent as they listened intently to what he said in his speech as the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
"Now, from the heart, I told Carolyn Partridge that if she made me cry, it was going to be very difficult for me," said Obuchowski. "I love this place, I love this town and I love all of you because you all are dedicated to a better Vermont and we live in a Vermont where anything is possible."
The room remained silent and there were tears rolling down the cheeks of some members of the audience.
"The possibilities are only limited by the fact of how much we can closely work together, because if we throw up our differences and work together, we can accomplish anything."