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Randolph State Rep. Remembered

Randolph — Family and friends yesterday remembered state Rep. Larry Townsend, a former selectman in Randolph, as a witty man with a passion for serving his town.

The 66-year-old Townsend, who died Saturday after battling cancer, put all his energy into making Randolph a better place, said Selectboard Chairman Dennis Brown, a longtime friend.

“He gave anything that you asked of him,” Brown said. “He never stopped.”

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Townsend, who was born in Bethel, returned to Randolph and married Judith A. Braun.

He spent the next 30 years working at the post office in Randolph, served several terms on the Selectboard, presided over a neighborhood housing program and became a member of the village fire department. In 2008, Townsend, a Democrat, won a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives representing several Randolph-area towns.

Brown, 46, said he remembers a man who stood behind the post office counter and handed out stamps with a loud laugh and a smile.

“He was a vibrant figure,” he said. “People clung to him like he was a second father.”

Brown said he and Townsend served time together on the Selectboard and were occasionally on different sides of an issue. But during those disputes, Townsend put the issue ahead of any personal feelings. He didn’t just vote one way because someone wanted him to; he carefully dissected the impact of each decision.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that he was just doing what he thought was best,” Brown said. “He made sure he knew all the issues.”

Townsend served on the House Government Operations Committee, and committee Chairwoman Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, praised his dedication to public service and his ability to keep his colleagues grounded.

“He was so respectful of everyone,” Sweaney said. “He was a great questioner and listener. ‘Thank you for coming,’ he would say. ‘Thank you for sharing your ideas.’ ”

Sweaney said she visited Townsend at his home on Thursday, when he was visibly in decline. He told her he was going to miss doing good work on the committee this summer.

“We’re going to do the work in your honor,” Sweaney replied.

Townsend’s attempts to weigh the costs and benefits of any legislation drew admiration from lawmakers, including House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, who said Townsend was “focused on making Vermont a better place for the next generation.”

“I will miss Larry’s keen sense of humor and sense of fairness,” Smith added in a statement.

To honor Townsend, Gov. Peter Shumlin has ordered that this Saturday, flags should be lowered to half-staff at Vermont State House, all federal and state facilities and public buildings and grounds around the state.

Brian Townsend, one of Larry’s four sons, said his father was proud of being a Vermonter.

One of his favorite political stories comes from a re-election debate in 2010 where his father showed off his sharp wit.

Are there any lobbyists in Montpelier? someone in the crowd asked.

Townsend repeated the question then replied: “Are there black flies in the woods?”

Brian Townsend said his father was frequently cheery and humorous. He was big, but sensitive.

When Brian Townsend was in seventh grade, his father took him to Disney World in Florida. As they were walking through the park, he said, he was holding his father’s hand.

“I was 11. I was getting to the age where you don’t hold your father’s hand in public.”

But his father assured him otherwise.

“Every little boy should be comfortable holding his father’s hand,” he told his son.

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or zpeterson@vnews.com.