NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Thomas Garry Buckley, 89, a former lieutenant governor of Vermont and state senator in Bennington County, died Wednesday at his home in Stowe, his family said.
Born on Sept. 13, 1922, in Albany, N.Y., Buckley was elected lieutenant governor in 1976. His election was notable because he finished second in the vote tally, but because no candidate received a majority of the vote, the election was decided by the Legislature, as called for in the Vermont Constitution.
John Alden, a Democrat, took 48.4 percent of the popular vote in the general election, while Buckley won 47.6 percent. Liberty Union candidate John Franco won 4 percent. However, in a joint session of the Legislature, majority Republicans selected Buckley, who was a Republican. Buckley received 90 votes from lawmakers to Alden's 87. Franco received one vote.
"Every blind hog finds an acorn once in a while," Buckley reportedly said after the Legislature decided the outcome.
Buckley would serve only one term as lieutenant governor. He was defeated in a Republican primary for the position in 1978 by Peter Smith. He went on to lose a race for the U.S. Senate in 1980.
Buckley also served at the local level in Bennington. Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran, a former state representative, said town records show that Buckley first became active in local affairs at the Bennington annual floor meeting in 1950.
"He just enjoyed politics," Corcoran said. "He was a colorful figure."
Buckley would go on to serve as a Village of Old Bennington trustee, and a member of the village's Highway Commission. Buckley was also elected as a Bennington selectman in 1952 as an independent. He defeated Lafayette Lyons, who received both the Democratic and Republican nomination, by a vote of 1,327 to 1,152. He won re-election in 1955, defeating Democrat William Burton by a wider margin, 1,509 to 561.
Additionally, Buckley was a former director of the Bennington County Industrial Corp. and a Bennington Museum trustee.
Buckley ran as an independent in 1952 to represent Bennington in the Vermont House but lost narrowly to John Hart, who carried the Democratic and Republican nominations. He ran successfully for the Vermont Senate in 1954 as a Republican and served two terms. He was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Washington County Sen. William Doyle, R-Washington, first elected in 1968, said Buckley was known as an effective speaker who could persuade others.
"He knew how to market a bill. He could make a good case for any bill that he presented. He was a good speaker on the floor. If you're a good speaker you can convince them," Doyle said. "I would rate him as a very good speaker and very effective. I enjoyed working with him."
Doyle said Buckley would often fly to Montpelier during the legislative session.
Corcoran said Buckley played a significant role in the election of former Democratic Gov. Philip Hoff in 1962, the first Democrat elected to the position in the state in more than 100 years. Buckley, along with another man, founded the Vermont Independent Party to oppose the re-election of Republican Gov. F. Ray Keyser Jr. Buckley was upset with Keyser for awarding a contract to operate the Green Mountain Race Track in Pownal to an out-of-state group.
Corcoran said the several thousand votes Hoff received as the candidate for the Vermont Independent Party helped Hoff secure a majority of the vote by a very small margin.
Buckley attended the Albany Academy for Boys, the Cranwell Preparatory School, and Brown University. He told the Brattleboro Reformer during his 1976 campaign for lieutenant governor that he was "involuntarily brought to Bennington" by his parents in 1937. But, he would go on to become a successful real estate broker in Bennington. His largest sale was Bromley Mountain.
Buckley enlisted with the Air Force in 1942. He was a World War II veteran, serving as an Air Force glider pilot. He married Frances Kingsbury Littlefield in 1945 while in the service. They had four sons and one daughter. Sons David and Peter Buckley reside in Bennington.
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