Preservation Trust of Vermont It is with great sadness that we share the news that our beloved friend and leader Paul Bruhn has passed away. As PTV’s first and only Executive Director, Paul has been a tireless voice for building community and preserving the essential character of Vermont. Few if any people have had a bigger impact on Vermont over the last forty years. His full obituary is below. We will miss him dearly.
— Neale Lunderville, Chair, Preservation Trust of Vermont Board of Directors
Senator Patrick Leahy: It hit hard when Marcelle and I learned of the sudden loss of our dear, dear friend, Paul Bruhn. Our hearts ache for Colleen and for all who knew and loved him.
He is one of the finest Vermonters I ever worked with, and one of the dearest and best friends we have both had, and we loved him.
His work on historic preservation is equal to the work that anyone has ever done for the State of Vermont. Those countless success stories are preserved in brick, mortar, stone and wood across our state.
I’ve known Paul since he was a young man in his 20s. He came with me to Washington and helped me set up my office, and he was my first chief of staff.
I watched with pride when Paul received an award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and we both had the same message: Historic preservation is not a cost for saving the past, but a wise investment in the future.
Paul felt to his core that we Vermonters have a rich legacy defined by our people, our history, our downtowns and village centers, as well as our iconic barns and covered bridges.
Now he is part of Vermont’s legacy. We’ll never see another like Paul Bruhn.
On September 19, 2019, Paul Alan Bruhn of South Burlington died of having too much fun. It was his heart that finally couldn’t keep up with him.
He was born March 27, 1947, in Burlington, the son of Marion and Elmer Bruhn. His father died when Paul was just five months old, and his mother was left to run the family business, Bruhn Office Equipment on Church Street in downtown Burlington, as well as raising three young children. The first two were probably easier than the last one.
Paul is survived by his very special friend Colleen O’Neill of Cornish, NH, his former partner Christine Graham of Burlington and North Bennington and her two sons Finnegan Calabro and his wife Clare Beams and their daughters Tess and Joanna of Pittsburgh, PA, and Max Calabro of Portland, OR; his sisters Janet Lum of Orcus, WA, and Beverly Major and her husband Randolph of Westminster West, VT; his former wife Kathleen Stankevich of Springfield, numerous nieces and nephews, his “brother” Pat Robins and Lisa Schamberg who didn’t know she was getting a package deal, his colleagues and Board Members at the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and lots of special friends.
The high point of his academic career was at the Tom Thumb Nursery School. He later graduated (barely) from Burlington High School in 1965, where playing basketball was his biggest interest, and he briefly attended the University of Vermont.
In spite of an uninspiring academic record, he was lucky enough to have three very special careers. In 1966, Proctor and Ruth Page took him under their wings and provided him with an education in journalism and the newspaper business. Later they supported his effort to edit and publish a monthly magazine for Chittenden County. Chittenden Magazine operated for four years, ending publication in 1973. Paul often said those years working for Proc and Ruth were his “college” education. After a brief stint in the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office, he ran Patrick Leahy’s first campaign for the U. S. Senate in 1974. He then served as Senator Leahy’s Chief of Staff in Washington, DC, until returning to Vermont in 1978. (That was his second college education.) He operated a consulting business for several years, and became the first executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont in 1980, a position he held until his death.
He had great passion for his work with the Preservation Trust and the people in virtually every community in Vermont who work hard every day to save and use their historic places, and who value and support their downtowns and village centers. It would be hard to overstate how much he cared about Vermont.
He received a number of honors and awards, including an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Vermont, an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Green Mountain College, the President’s Award from Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Hildene Award, the Richard Carbin Award for Community Service from the Vermont Land Trust, the Cowbird Award from the Vermont Land Trust, the Arthur Gibb Award for Individual Leadership from Smart Growth Vermont, the Franklin Fairbanks Award from the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, the Bernice Murray Award from the Vermont Community Development Association, the Nate Harris Award from the Downtown Burlington Business Association, the Pizzagalli Excellence Award, the Vermont Council on Rural Development Lifetime Leadership Award, and the Vermont Economic Advancement Award from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. During his tenure as executive director, The Preservation Trust received the Trustees’ Award for Organizational Excellence from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Paul served on the board of many organizations including the Visiting Nurse Association, Howard Mental Health, the Vermont Community Foundation, Smart Growth Vermont, the Vermont Council on Rural Development, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Vermont Life Advisory Board, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Board, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Local First Vermont, Vermont Public Television, the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Advisors.
Special thanks to heart surgeon Frank Ittleman, and Doctors Henry Tufo, Dan Lustgarten, Claudia Berger, Stephen Ades, Grace Johnstone, and “Stephen” Robins, and massage therapist Laura Emerson whose care and skill provided Paul with many bonus years. Memorial Gifts may be made to the Preservation Trust of Vermont, 104 Church Street, Burlington, VT 05401 or online here.
There will be a celebration of Paul’s life at a future date.
by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine, 2017