“Way Leads on to Way”  — Phil Hoff at 90!

Phil and Joan at the White House with John Fitzgerald Kennedy. On the right, right a more recent picture.

First Impressions

In 1962, I lived with my parents in Rutland, Vermont. One day early in the fall, I was at home, out sick from school. I was nine years old. There was a knock at the front door. Although I was in my pajamas, I raced to the front door. I opened and found an attractive couple. The man asked if my mother was at home.

She was, and was soon engaged in a political conversation. The man was Phil Hoff and the woman, his wife Joan. He explained that he was running for Governor. After a bit, he asked my mother is she would vote for him. She promised to do so.

Then Phil asked if she could try to persuade my father to vote for him too. She laughed and exclaimed that her husband “would vote for the Democrat if they ran a spotted dog!” Hoff grinned and he Joan were quickly on their way to another door.

That November Phil Hoff became the first Democrat to be elected Governor of Vermont in 108 years.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see Phil and Joan standing in front door of my parent’s house. I guess you would say they made an impression on me.

Phil Hoff as Governor and Senate Candidate

Hoff served three two year terms as Governor. At lot changed. For one thing, our legislature was reapportioned from one member for each town to districts based on population. In many ways, Vermont began to move into the main stream of American life.

The young man in the background on the right is me, at age 17!

Hoff ran for the Senate in 1970, He ran against an incumbent Republican Senator, Winston Prouty. In 1967, Hoff had been the first Democratic Governor to split with Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War. So opposition to the war was a central plank of his senate race. I was against the war too, and that summer and fall, I spent nearly all my free time volunteering in his campaign. We lost.

My Mentor at Law and in Life

By 1978, I had graduated from law school. Hoff was practicing law in Burlington and argued several cases before the Vermont Supreme Court, where I was a law clerk. I still liked the man I saw.

After I left my clerkship, I got to know Phil. His firm had hired one of my co-clerks, Michael Schein, as an associate. I was working in a two-lawyer shop in Jericho, a Burlington suburb. My friend invited me to a public meeting being held to discuss the local university hospital’s application to spend $110 million dollars on renovations. Hoff attended. The outcome was that a citizens group was established to oppose the application. On a pro bono basis, Hoff, my friend and I, tried the first contested Certificate of Need proceeding in state history in an attempt to rein in the application. We were only modestly successful; persuading the hospital cut 15 million dollars from the project.

The Hoff Commission

Early the next year, Hoff was appointed by our Supreme Court to chair a blue-ribbon commission to study our state’s bar admissions process. Hoff asked to Court to hire me staff the commission. I did the research, attended the public hearings and wrote its report.

When the project was finished, Hoff asked me to join his law firm as an associate. I did. After a few years I became a partner. Some years later, in 1989, I decided to leave the firm to establish a new firm with an old Hoff compatriot, David Curtis, and his law partner, John Pacht. Phil offered to come with us, and the law firm I have worked in for nearly 25 years, Hoff Curtis, was formed.

From an unlikely beginning, Phil and Joan Hoff became my friends of well over 30 years standing. Phil has been my mentor all these years.

Phil at Age 90

And so, “way leads on to way.” Last Saturday night, I was asked to emcee a celebration of Phil and Joan Hoff marking the occasion of Phil’s 90th birthday at the Old Labor Hall in Barre, Vermont. It was a gala event, attended by some 200 of Phil and Joan’s friends and admirers, including Barre Mayor, Tom Lauzon, the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate, Patrick J. Leahy and his wife Marcelle, and Vermont’s retired Chief Trial Court Judge, Stephen Martin. (Leahy was an associate in Phil’s old law firm, and as Governor, Phil had appointed him as Chittenden County State’s Attorney, the office from which Leahy was elected to the Senate.)

Thank You!

Thank you to the Boards of Directors of the Old Labor Hall and The Barre Historical Society for celebrating Phil and Joan Hoff. Thank you Dagne Hoff, Mary Miller, Art Ristau, Tom Davis, and Mike Vinton for sharing your recollections. Thank you Linda Radtke and Dick Shadroui, for a great performance of the Vermont State Anthem and rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

And most of all, thank you Tom Davis, Scott Skinner and Mark Greenberg for organizing a great event and worthy celebration.


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