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Helen Stafford; was widow of Vermont politician; at 93

HELEN STAFFORD HELEN STAFFORD (Associated Press/ File 1982)
Associated Press / March 1, 2011

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RUTLAND, Vt. — Helen Stafford, the widow of Robert Stafford, the man who played a key role in Vermont politics for almost half a century, died Sunday while in hospice care at The Gables assisted living facility in Rutland. She was 93.

Mrs. Stafford suffered a minor stroke in December and had been in declining health since then, said former Stafford aide Glenn Gershaneck.

US Senator Patrick Leahy said the Staffords helped him and his wife, Marcelle, adjust to life in Washington after his 1974 election to the Senate.

“Helen wrote Marcelle a long letter that she still has,’’ Leahy said. “It encouraged us to bring the children to Washington for the school year. She also agreed to baby-sit our children while we went house hunting.

“Bob said Helen was his constant moral compass,’’ Leahy said.

The former Helen C. Kelley was from Bellows Falls. She met him at Middlebury College, from which she graduated in 1938 as a theater arts major. Robert Stafford had graduated in 1935 and went on to law school, graduating from Boston University Law School.

Robert Stafford died in 2006, also at age 93. He served as a local prosecutor, attorney general, and governor before serving 11 years in the US House and 17 years in the US Senate. He retired in 1989.

Robert and Helen Stafford were married for 68 years. They raised four daughters, including twins, who still live in Vermont.

Over his career, Stafford was known for starting many sentences with “Helen and I.’’

Barbara Stafford told the Burlington Free Press that her parents did not get caught up in the glitz of Washington politics.

“They disliked snobbery and elitism; they were just Rutland and Bellows Falls people,’’ she said. The children were told not to expect special treatment.

A memorial service for Mrs. Stafford has been tentatively scheduled for March 12 in the Congregational Church in Rutland.