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Tony Pomerleau Celebrates 90 Years of Life

By Scott Wheeler

Tony Pomerleau
Tony Pomerleau of Burlington celebrated his 90th birthday party
in Burlington on Friday, September 28.

Orleans County has produced many people who went on to do big things in the world. Among the many are Charles Adams, the founder of the Boston Bruins who grew up in Newport Center. Henry Leland, who grew up in Barton, founded Cadillac and Lincoln. Then there was Horace Tabor of Holland. He went on to become Silver Dollar Tabor, one of the West’s most colorful and wealthiest characters and the lieutenant governor of Colorado. And there was Rachel Allyn, a woman who grew up in Charleston who became one of this country’s first women doctors.

All of the previous mentioned Orleans County natives no longer walk this earth, but on Friday, September 28, the state recognized another one of the county’s most successful sons as he turned 90 years old – Tony Pomerleau of Burlington. The highly respected Vermont real estate developer has made millions, but he is more known for giving away money to worthy causes and to the under privileged. He spent his youth in Barton and Newport. Among his many real estate holdings include several pieces of real estate in Orleans County, including the Waterfront Plaza, a piece of property that he, along with the Jay Peak Ski and Summer Resort, hope to transform into a convention center.
The 90th birthday party, which was held at the Burlington Country Club, was a spectacular event, one that paid a much deserved tribute to Tony, his works, his philanthropic nature, and his love of God, family, friends, and Vermont.

Tony and his wife Rita
Tony and his wife Rita arriving at the party with an escort
by the Burlington Police Department.

Tony and wife, Rita, were escorted to the country club by the Burlington Police Department, a department in which he once served as its commissioner. He also donated the building that now houses its headquarters.
In walking through the ball room it became obvious that although Tony left Orleans County for the bright lights of Burlington decades ago, Orleans County never left his heart. The room was decorated with photos of his youth in Barton and Newport.

Pomerleau family
The Pomerleau family is a tight-knit family

Tony and his nephew in-law, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy
Tony and his nephew in-law, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, belong to opposite political parties, but their admiration for one another is obvious.

A father of 10 children, Tony and Rita basked in the evening spotlight and in the presence of their children, grandchildren, and other family members as well as a vast array of friends. Among his many family members at the gala event was his niece, Marcelle Leahy and her husband, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and U.S. Congressman Peter Welch were also seated at the head table. Governor Jim Douglas also made an appearance at the event to proclaim September 28 as Antonio Pomerleau Day.
Tony and Mrs. Leahy weren’t the only people with strong ties to Newport sitting at the head table. There was Father Roland Rivard, a lifelong friend of Tony’s. Father Rivard proved that if he hadn’t followed God’s calling into the priesthood he certainly could have made a living as a standup comedian.

Father Roland Rivard
If Father Roland Rivard, one of Tony’s longtime friends, hadn’t followed God’s calling into the priesthood he certainly could have been a comedian.

“When he was a young man the Dead Sea was only sick,” Father Rivard said of Tony… “He says he is a self made man. Why he’d make himself the way he did, I don’t know.”
On a serious note, Father Rivard said that there is nothing more important in Tony’s life than his love of God, family, friends, and the less fortunate.

The master of ceremony for the evening’s events, Joe Handy, also has ties to Newport. When his ancestors arrived from Lebanon they began an ice business in Newport, a business which eventually encompassed much of Northern Vermont. The Handy family is now one of the most prominent business families in the state.

Governor Jim Douglas
Governor Jim Douglas declared September 28 as Antonio Pomerleau Day

Following a number of speakers, many who gently ribbed Tony, and all praising his virtues, Tony graciously turned the tables on them. One by one he good naturedly poked fun at all of them, including the U.S. Legislators. It’s interesting to note that while Senator Leahy is a staunch Democrat, and one of the most powerful legislators in Washington D.C., Tony is a dedicated Republication. The men spoke about how over the years the two of them had in good spirits tried to recruit each other to one another’s party. And Tony talked about the fierce battles that he and Senator Sanders had when the senator was the mayor of Burlington. Such battles would have turned many people into enemies, but it turned the two Burlington men into good friends. Dr. Brian Riggie of Island Pond, a longtime friend of Tony’s, also dished it out to Tony. Of course Tony couldn’t resist giving it back to him.
Tony and I first met more than a decade ago when I was a newspaper reporter. We instantly learned that we had one big thing in common, a love of history. There is nothing he loves doing more than talking about history, particularly of Newport, a community where he worked as a stock boy and a shoe salesman in his youth.

Although our paths have crossed numerous times over the years, it wasn’t until this year that I have really come to know Tony. Earlier this year Tony I began an odyssey of recording his life story. The Tony that I have come to know is far more than a man with a lot of money. He is a man of great principal, a man that cherishes what he has earned, yet not nearly as much as he cherishes his family, friends, and the Catholic Faith as well as helping the underprivileged.

At one time when U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders was the mayor of Burlington Tony and the then mayor were fierce opponents. In time, they became good friends.

Finding my assigned seat, I was pleased to see that I had been seated with a small contingent of other Orleans County residents: Bob and Marie George of Newport, and Trish Sears and her husband, Steve Mason of Lowell. The Georges’ own RJ’s Friendly Market in Newport, leashing the building from Tony. Trish spearheads Newport’s Downtown Renaissance Project.

“I have to say that at 90 years old you’d think a person would be thinking about retiring,” Bob George said. “But for Mr. P life is one challenge after another. I challenge anybody half of his age to keep up with his pace.” Bob said that Tony’s enthusiasm is contagious, a comment that was echoed by Trish.
“He has been a great mentor to me,” she said. “He continues to urge me to think better and bigger.” Trish said that Newport has a brighter future because of the inspiration that he has instilled in her and other area business people.

U.S. Congressman Peter Welch
Freshman U.S. Congressman Peter Welch also attended the festivities

I’ll conclude this article by saying that I believe that Vermont, including Newport, is truly blessed to have had Tony Pomerleau for the last 90 years. His enthusiasm and optimism is inspiring. He is a man who believes in people and believes anybody can succeed if they maintain a positive outlook on life. I am just one of many people who he has touched in his walk through life.

Thank you Tony and Happy Birthday. May you have many more happy years to come.

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