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Friday February 19, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- Longtime state lawmaker Nancy Chard was Brattleboro's gift to Vermont.

She was a lifelong educator, an active member of several boards around Windham County and a respected political force in the Statehouse for more than a decade. But she was also remembered as a great mother and a loyal friend, leaving behind a legacy of strength and wisdom for generations of Vermonters.

"She had high standards for herself and liked to see others reach high," said Sarah Carter, who knew Chard for more than 30 years. "She wanted each person to be the best they could be, and she led the way."

In the presence of her family, Chard died early Thursday morning at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend at the age of 76.

Chard's oldest daughter Sara described her mother as a strong, loyal and compassionate woman.

"She had a full, interior part of her that was so strong ... and she shared that with everyone in her life, particularity with women," said Sara Chard Pease. "Her family meant the world to her."

Chard, a Democrat, was a political late bloomer. She had served as a Town Meeting Representative, as well as on the Brattleboro Union High School Board and as president of Brooks Memorial Library. But she decided at the age of 56 it was time run for statewide office.

She was elected to the Vermont House in 1990 and served on the Health and Welfare Committee. In 1994, Chard was elected to the Vermont Senate and served for eight years as chairwoman of the Health and Welfare and Education committees, and as a member of the Natural Resources and General Affairs and Housing committees.

Chard chose not to run for re-election to the Senate in 2002. In a letter to the Reformer, she said that her "12 years in Montpelier have been rewarding but it is time for me to move on."

She said she believed she "made a difference as a legislator in many areas but some issues have engaged me intensively, such as welfare restructuring, education standards, mental health parity, prescription drug assistance, adoption reform, long-term care and the rights of the elderly. I wish I could have done more and better but I'm pleased to have helped in those areas. I hope to continue to work on them as a private citizen."

According to Carter, Chard had the ability to see through tough issues and helped bring consensus in the General Assembly.

"She was able to hear different sides of the issue, hear where people were coming form and find the common ground. Sometimes is was through humor, sometimes through plain old logic," she added.

Rep. Alice Miller, D-Shaftsbury, has known Chard since 1967 and was a very close friend of the family.

"Today, I can tell you my tears are flowing, and so are tears from others who loved her with all our hearts, it's just a terrible loss," she said. Nancy Chard was "an extraordinary woman with an extraordinary mind," and was determined to make a difference in Vermonters' lives, especially young people, she added.

"Nancy was one of my closest friends, and Vermont has lost one of our most qualified, bright and dignified public servants," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. "Nancy could understand complex issues faster than anyone else I ever worked with. I will miss her dearly."

Chard said after leaving the Legislature that "the best work I was ever able to do was bipartisan." Even during the frequently contentious debate over civil unions in 2000, Chard said that "we were respectful to one another and our differences. The decency and thoughtfulness shown during that struggle was something to be proud of."

An educator by profession, Chard was an academic dean at Community College of Vermont and a founding director of Vermont State Colleges' Southern Vermont Education Center. She taught history and education courses at the University of Vermont, Johnson State College and CCV.

"She was an amazing woman, a loyal friend and teacher ... and by teacher, I mean teaching about life and not just history or any other subject," said Carter, who worked with Chard at CCV. Carter currently is the principal at an elementary school in White River Junction.

"I think it was fascinating for her," said Chard Pease, currently living in Brattleboro. "I don't think she knew any way of life other than teaching."

Chard had served as a trustee for Fletcher Allen Health Care, Grace Cottage Hospital and Vermont Public Television. She was director of the Vermont Program for Quality in Health Care, a member of the advisory board of UVM's College of Education and Social Services and was director emeritus of the Winston Prouty Center in Brattleboro.

"She served on the Grace Cottage Hospital board for many years a few decades ago. She was a huge asset to the hospital community and the community at large," said Andrea Seaton, spokeswoman for Grace Cottage. "She was a very wise and thoughtful woman."

Chard had also served as chairwoman of the New England Board of Higher Education and as president of the National Order of Women Legislators. She was also a member of the American Association of University Women.

Born in Point Pleasant, N.J., on July 14, 1933, to Burtis Rue and Thelma Risden Imlay, she graduated from Upsala College and earned a Master's in History at Rutgers University. She went on to teach in New Jersey, New York, Tachikawa Air Base in Japan and at the college level in Turkey.

She is survived by her husband, Dr. John Turner Chard, and her three children: Sara Chard Pease of Brattleboro, Dr. Joshua Turner Chard and his wife Heather of Avon, Conn., and Burtis Culley Chard of Brattleboro. She is also survived by Victoria, Nicholas and John Pease, as well as Jackson and Rachel Chard, all her grandchildren.

The family will hold calling hours from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 21, at St. Michael's Church on Walnut Street, with the funeral service scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, also at the church.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.

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