Potter Stewart, Jr. brings experience to the board

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BRATTLEBORO — The Latchis Theatre and Hotel is in a very real sense owned by our community. Nineteen local people volunteer to work on two boards. They keep their eye on the 62,500 sq.-ft. building while keeping an eye on the big picture. Their three managers and Executive Director Jon Potter keep the movies running, the scheduling of live events on the main stage happening and the thirty hotel rooms ready for people from all over the northeast, the country and the world.

One of those volunteers for the nine-member Latchis Corporation board is local lawyer Stewart Stewart, Jr. By age 27, this gentle man with a ready sense of humor, had already lived a far from ordinary life. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1947. In 1953, his father, then a practicing attorney with degrees from Yale University as well as Yale Law School, was nominated by President Eisenhower for a seat on the 6th US Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. When Stewart completed the sixth grade in 1958, his father and mother, Mary Ann, and his two siblings, Harriet and David, moved from their familiar world in Ohio to Washington D.C. President Eisenhower had appointed his father to sit on the United States Supreme Court, a position he held from 1958 until 1980 when he resigned. He was succeeded by Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Stewart loved growing up in Washington. He attended the National Cathedral School for Boys from grades 7 to 12 and then went on to Yale for American Studies, graduating in 1970. He then entered law school at The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, earning his degree in 1974.

Looking to establish his own law practice outside the larger-than-life orbit of his father, Stewart moved to Brattleboro. He had earlier become familiar with the area through visits with his sister, Harriet Virkstis, who lived with her family in Dummerston. Forty-three years have passed and he's still here.

Initially, he worked as a lawyer in the Kristensen, Cummings and Price offices in Brattleboro for 20years. He brought up two boys — Christopher and Tyler from an earlier marriage — and then, in 1992 met and married Robin Stern, also a lawyer, working at the time in the offices of Gale, Gale, Barile and Corum here in Brattleboro. Daughter Isabel and step-daughter Sybil also grew up here.

In 1994, Stewart, who puts people immediately at ease, opened his own office in space offered by Senator Robert Gannett on the first and third floors of the building where Renaissance Jewelry is now on Main Street. For a further 20 years, Stewart, later joined by his wife Robin along with other attorneys, grew the firm. Stewart's focus was business matters and litigation. In 2014 he stepped away from the active practice of law to concentrate on mediating and arbitrating disputes, principally by acting as the chosen neutral of the parties to try to assist in resolving the party's pending state or federal lawsuit. Stewart estimates that he has been involved with over 350 cases as mediator or arbitrator.

John D. (Rick) Hashagen, earlier president of Vermont National Bank here in Brattleboro, became president of the Latchis Corporation Board in 2003 when it purchased the Latchis building from the Latchis family. Hashagen began to build a board to help him make the big decisions regarding this complex building and its programming and operations. In 2014, Hashagen, approached Stewart, then a recently retired lawyer, to join him on the volunteer board. Stewart agreed and has remained on the board these past 3 years. Given his appreciation of dry stone walls and their creation, he also joined the board of The Stone Trust at Scott Farm.

Like so many other volunteer board members, Stewart brings lessons learned from his life's work. In Stewart's case that means 40 years as an active lawyer and, more recently, his focus on alternative dispute resolution. He brings all of this experience to the monthly meetings of the Latchis Corporation. Once a month for the last three years of his tenure, he has joined eight others (three women and five men) as they make financial and legal decisions. What all this work ensures is that everyone in southeastern Vermont is able to go to the movies 365 nights a year with popcorn in hand, and 60,000 people a year do just that. They can also see simulcasts from the Bolshoi Ballet, The National Theatre in London, see blockbuster movies or attend screenings put up on the big screen by the Brattleboro Movie Festival or the annual performance by The New England Center for Circus Arts. Stewart is one of those doers on the two boards that works quietly behind the scenes to keep a close eye on the viability of The Latchis Theatre and Hotel.

As he told this writer, "Brattleboro is known for its arts and The Latchis is key in the constellation of art and cultural institutions here in southeastern Vermont. We all have to pitch in to keep it thriving. It takes a village .."

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