WILMINGTON — Signs with messages such as "Boyd strong" and "local legend" were posted on cars driven by community members honoring Cleon Boyd, who died fighting COVID-19.
"It was wonderful to see the outpouring of support for the Boyd family this afternoon," Rep. John Gannon, D-Windham-6, who participated in the procession, said in an email response to Reformer. "However, it was sobering to see a death in our own community. It makes all the COVID-19 information we receive as legislators a lot more real."
Boyd, 64, of Wilmington, died Friday. He grew up on the Boyd Family Farm and remained a lifelong resident.
On Sunday afternoon, community members were invited to drive their vehicles in a procession with fire trucks and police cars. Starting at Twin Valley Elementary School in Wilmington, they drove past the Boyd Family Farm and homes of Boyd's family members before turning around at Dover School. The event was organized via Facebook by Jill Adams, whose family owns a farm in Wilmington that is no longer open to the public and for sale. She credited Julie Moore of Wilmington for coming up with the idea.
Participants were asked not to leave their vehicles. They were invited to decorate their cars and to throw flowers or cards.
Boyd's sister-in-law Janet Boyd said she was "very grateful" for the procession because his children would get to see their friends and extended family members who they haven't been able to meet with in person due to social distancing measures related to containing the pandemic. Boyd is survived by two sons, two daughters, two brothers and three sisters.
The procession included motorcycles, classic cars, acoustic guitars strapped on vehicles, town highway department trucks, vehicles used by local business and fire trucks from departments all over the valley. Longtime family friend Mike Fitzpatrick of Newfane counted about 1,000 vehicles in total.
"Cleon was a friend, basically to all he encountered through the valley," Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, who joined the procession with her husband and son, said in an email response to the Reformer. "My heart goes out to his entire family."
Fitzpatrick said everyone in the valley loves the family. He knew Cleon and his twin Leon since they were all infants.
"They'd give the shirt off their backs," he said in a telephone interview, describing them as local celebrities. "They're a tight family."
Snowy hills being packed by machines will inevitably stir up memories of Boyd. A groomer from Mount Snow was towed in the procession.
"I love grooming," he said in "We Love Snow: Cleon," a video Mount Snow posted in October 2018 and is being widely shared again after Boyd's death.
His father groomed the hills at the West Dover-based ski resort. Boyd recalled starting the job himself around 1976 and he never stopped. He said after a storm with some sticky snow, he could create "perfect corduroy."
Boyd described enjoying the view of the valley from the summit as the sun comes up. Regarding retirement, he said, "You'll find me dead in the CAT or I'll be up here on the mountain mowing, one way or another."
Wilmington Fire Chief Scott Moore lowered the fire station flag to half mast to honor Boyd and thank him for contributing to the community. Boyd was very active on the department from the 1980s to the 2000s and always showed up smiling, according to a post on the Wilmington Fire Department's Facebook page.
"Was he happy or was he up to something?" the post states. "You never knew ... but then again, he is a Boyd!! In the words his brother Bucky, 'Nuff said.'"
Boyd could fix almost anything and always supported his community, the department said.
"He loved helping people, hanging out at the station and being a part of our award-winning Marching Unit," the department said.
Moore recalled hanging the fire station flag at half mast many times for fallen firefighters, emergency medical service personnel, police officers and soldiers.
"Today with a heavy heart, I hung our flag at half mast for past firefighter Cleon Boyd," he wrote on Facebook. "Although he was no longer active in the fire department to this day, his Wilmington FD plate is still displayed on the front of his pickup (once a firefighter always a firefighter). He will remain in our memories and our hearts."
Music was another big part of Boyd's life. A playlist created for the procession on Spotify included "Get Together" by The Youngbloods, "Take Me Home Country Roads" by John Denver, "Rocky Top" by Conway Twitty, "Mountain Dew" by Grandpa Jones and more.
Photos of Boyd playing guitar and singing with family members at Wilmington Old Home Week were posted on Facebook. Held every decade, the event celebrates the community with a parade and activities.
"Our songs will be a little softer for a bit," states a post for the event's Facebook page. "Rest in peace, Cleon."
Cleon and his siblings never took music lessons, Fitzpatrick said.
"They always did a good job," he said about their performances.
Valley View Saloon, where Boyd would frequent and play songs at a now-defunct weekly open mic, said via Facebook, "Cleon Boyd, you are forever with us. Rest in peace."
On Instagram, Dover Bar and Grill described Boyd as hardworking, funny and kind. The establishment said, "Our community lost an amazing human ... Life will not be the same without you Cleon ... "
It is unclear if Cleon is the first Windham County resident to die from COVID-19.
"I do not have information at this point that would confirm this," Nancy Erickson, public health communication and policy advisor at the Vermont Department of Health, said Sunday morning in an email response to the Reformer.
The fire department advised people to listen to health professionals and state government officials.
"The virus is real folks," the department said. "We need to slow this down and flatten the curve, so please stay home, practice social distancing and wash your hands ... We can do this!"
Leon, Boyd's younger brother Bucky, Bucky's wife Janet and Cleon's son Zach tested positive for the coronavirus. Leon is hospitalized and on a ventilator right now.
Janet said Zach, Cleon and Leon all worked for Mount Snow and had been there on the last day it was open on March 14, although that doesn't mean that's where they picked it up. The Vermont Department of Health is "looking at nucleuses," she said. She described not having the energy to do anything except move from room to room, and fevers and body aches being "the worst at night."
Any time there's an issue, Janet said, family members play music. Not being able to do that nor see Cleon when he was isolated in a hospital room has been especially difficult for the family.
Cleon was known to stop by the family farm almost every day.
"He would help mow the fields or do whatever; he enjoyed that," Janet said. "He used to come up here and just mow all of the fields in between all the blueberries for us. And he loved being up on the mountain, on the trails."
She said Boyd and Leon often ate breakfast together at Betsey's Dot's of Dover. The diner closed early Sunday so staff could join the procession.
"We would like to show our appreciation and condolences to this wonderful family and all their years of business," the diner said on Facebook. "Cinnamon Rolls will NEVER be the same again. You will be missed dearly!"
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.