MONTPELIER — Barbara W. Snelling, a stalwart of late 20th century Vermont Republican politics, first in support of her husband's political career and later as lieutenant governor and state senator in her own right, died Monday. She was 87.
Her son, Mark Snelling, said his mother died Monday morning at her home in South Burlington following a brief illness. He said she was surrounded by family.
While supporting the campaigns of her husband, Richard Snelling, for the Vermont House and later in four successful campaigns for governor and an unsuccessful one for U.S. Senate, Barbara Snelling raised four children and managed her own career as an educational leader. She had stints chairing regional school boards and serving on the state Board of Education and as a vice president for development and external affairs at the University of Vermont.
An Episcopal minister's daughter from Massachusetts, Snelling graduated from Radcliffe College and lived for a time with her husband in Philadelphia before the couple moved to Shelburne.
Richard Snelling was elected to two four-year terms as governor before declining to seek re-election in 1984. He returned to the arena in 1990 and won a fifth term, but died of a heart attack at 64, eight months into his new term, in August 1991.
Barbara Snelling served as lieutenant governor from 1993 to 1997 and announced her candidacy for governor in 1996 only to have her campaign cut short in April of that year by a cerebral hemorrhage. She later served two terms in the state Senate, retiring in 2002.
Gov. Peter Shumlin praised Snelling as a person who "served Vermont with great distinction in roles big and small. Whether in service to her state or community, Barbara will always be remembered for her compassion and dedication and for overcoming great personal tragedy to continue to give back to the state she loved. The Snelling family has given and continues to give so much to Vermont. My thoughts are with the entire family and all those who knew Barbara."
Former state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, whose tenure overlapped with Snelling's, said she based her positions on "thoughtful analysis and strongly held philosophical beliefs."
He recalled one debate in which she opposed raising the minimum wage, but favored increasing the earned income tax credit in the belief the latter initiative would bring more help to more low-income working Vermonters.
"She was subjected to some very sharp criticism from individuals who did not go through the same analysis that she did to reach her conclusion," Illuzzi recalled. "You have to give a person like that credit — who is willing to stand on principle and cast a vote contrary to what was then the popular opinion."