A Life: Jack Candon ‘took total joy in being helpful and bringing some joy to others’

Jack Candon, right, stands with his father, Thomas H. Candon, who holds Jack's son Patrick at the House of Representatives in February 1985, when both Jack and his father were serving as state representatives. Jack, represented Norwich from 1983 to 1988, while his father represented part of Rutland for 20 years, beginning in 1966. (Courtesy photograph)

Jack Candon, right, stands with his father, Thomas H. Candon, who holds Jack's son Patrick at the House of Representatives in February 1985, when both Jack and his father were serving as state representatives. Jack, represented Norwich from 1983 to 1988, while his father represented part of Rutland for 20 years, beginning in 1966. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Marty and Jack Candon, dressed as Mrs. and Santa Claus, sit for a photograph on a day families had scheduled photographs with Santa in Dec. 2022. (Cara Dyke photograph)

Marty and Jack Candon, dressed as Mrs. and Santa Claus, sit for a photograph on a day families had scheduled photographs with Santa in Dec. 2022. (Cara Dyke photograph) Cara Dyke photograph

Marty and Jack Candon pose for a photograph during a celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of Jack’s sister and brother-in-law, Marcia and Tom Flanagan, in Milwaukee, Wisc., in Aug. 2023. Marty and Jack Candon celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June 2023. (Family photograph)

Marty and Jack Candon pose for a photograph during a celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of Jack’s sister and brother-in-law, Marcia and Tom Flanagan, in Milwaukee, Wisc., in Aug. 2023. Marty and Jack Candon celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June 2023. (Family photograph) —

Jack Candon displays his catch at the Lake Mitchell Trout Club in Sharon, Vt., in Sept. 2020. Jack was a long-time member of the club. (Family photograph)

Jack Candon displays his catch at the Lake Mitchell Trout Club in Sharon, Vt., in Sept. 2020. Jack was a long-time member of the club. (Family photograph) —

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-21-2024 10:00 PM

Modified: 01-23-2024 7:55 AM


NORWICH — Complete with a red suit and hat and with his trademark good humor and a twinkle in his eye, Jack Candon gave many Upper Valley children (including mine) their first Christmas gift each year: a bell.

The gift was a token of the Polar Express, the train that runs from the White River Junction station to the North Pole (Norwich) and back each December.

He also regularly donned one of the three Santa suits he owned, which filled an entire coat closet, for visits to the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth. In preparation, he memorized toy catalogs, including most of the names of American Girl dolls, and learned to say “Merry Christmas” in at least 10 languages.

“That was a big part of his life,” Marty Candon, his wife of 50 years who has sometimes been known as Mrs. Claus, said. It “just broke his heart to cancel this year.”

Santa Claus was a good fit for Jack Candon, a Norwich resident who died at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center on Dec. 5, 2023 at the age of 73, after struggling with lung issues.

“He took total joy in being helpful and bringing some joy to others,” his longtime friend and fellow Norwich resident U.S. Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said. “He needed no recognition. The Santa role really displayed that.”

Bringing joy to children and their parents was emblematic of the way Candon lived his life, Welch said, noting that Candon, whom Welch first met when they worked for the same White River Junction law firm in the 1970s, found satisfaction in his public service. He served as a state representative, a Norwich Selectboard member, and on the boards of the University of Vermont and Vermont Public Television, now part of Vermont Public. He also encouraged Welch, to run for office initially and later served as his campaign treasurer.

Candon was born in Rutland on Oct. 2, 1950 to Thomas H. and Margaret Flynn Candon and was the youngest of three children.

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“We have a very close family,” Marcia Flanagan, Candon’s sister, said. “I don’t think a week went by without several phone calls.”

Without making light of serious situations, Candon added humor even in difficult times.

He “always gave us permission to smile and laugh even through tears,” Flanagan said. “It was a really wonderful gift that he had.”

Their father, Thomas H. Candon, worked for the Veterans Administration, helping veterans to obtain home loans, said Tom Candon, the oldest of the three siblings. Thomas H. Candon later became a real estate appraiser and state representative. He was first elected to the state Legislature in the 1960s and remained in office, representing part of Rutland, for 20 years, Tom Candon said.

Even as a child, Jack Candon was “very good with people,” his brother said. Jack attended Boys State, a leadership development program for high school boys, and was selected from there to attend Boys Nation.

Jack was proud of his family’s long history in the state. The Candons arrived in the mid-1800s and lived in and around the Rutland County towns of Chittenden and Pittsford, Tom Candon said. Their mother’s family was farther south, in Dorset and Danby, he said.

“He was the expert on our family tree and could trace it back, by memory, to the 1870s, remembering birth years and where each relative lived,” said Tom Candon, Jack’s nephew. “We had great times finding the old homesteads of great-grandparents in Ira and Chittenden, Vt.”

Just last year, Jack, known as UJ to his nieces and nephews, bought maple syrup for the family from the family currently tapping the sugarbush at the first Candon farm in Chittenden.

“He took great pride in our family’s history and was such a big part of it himself,” Jack’s nephew Tom said.

Jack left Vermont after graduating from Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland in 1968 to attend the University of Notre Dame and then Marquette University Law School.

It was during his time in the Midwest that he met Martha B. Pryser, better known as Marty, on a blind date. Marty grew up in Michigan, about 40 minutes from South Bend, Indiana, where Notre Dame is, she said. They were married in Sturgis, Michigan in June 1973.

They made their first home together in Milwaukee while Candon attended law school before coming to Vermont in 1976, when Jack took a job at a White River Junction law firm. He eventually left with a couple other attorneys to form their own firm. In his legal work, he focused primarily on real estate transactions, and represented some school districts and corporate clients.

Dan Grossman, a fellow Upper Valley attorney whose career overlapped with Candon’s for 40 years, said Candon’s reputation was such that other attorneys would be glad to have him representing the other side.

“You could use one word for him that I think of, that’s ‘always’,” Grossman said. “Any lawyer who knew (Jack) always knew that Jack was going to be fair, responsive and competent.”

Rather than posturing or arguing for the sake of argument, Candon “was a lawyer who wanted to get the business done for his client.”

In his early 30s, Candon, a Democrat, was appointed to finish a term representing Norwich in the Vermont House and was then elected, serving from 1983 to 1988. He served for a time on the House Commerce Committee and said in a June 4, 1984 Valley News article, that he would concentrate on keeping the cost of health care down if re-elected. His legislative work also included helping to draft a child-restraint law and another clarifying the role of assistant judges.

He served in the House at the same time as his father, as well as two cousins Pat and Mark Candon.

“There were many Candons who served before them,” Marty Candon said. “He was very, very proud of that line in his family.”

He was motivated to enter politics partly by his family connection and also by the political turmoil of the 1960s, Marty said.

“I think he grew up talking about politics around the dinner table,” Marty said.

In that forum, his views stood out. “Jack was probably the most liberal of all of them,” his wife said.

Jack loved to tell the story of the time some vote was coming up and he saw his father, who knew how he was going to vote, motion to a page. The page brought him a note, which said: “Your mother will be very disappointed in you.”

But, after the Candons adopted their son Patrick, the trips to Montpelier became too much.

He “didn’t want to miss out on Patrick,” whom Marty described as the “giant star of his life.”

They picked up Patrick at a hospital in Rutland when he was just one day old.

Candon later served two terms on the Norwich Selectboard, a job which Welch acknowledged makes his look like “a walk in the park.”

Marty said he gave up the Selectboard when “he couldn’t stand being called stupid anymore.”

One grateful constituent, Terry Boone, took to the Valley News Forum page to thank Candon in a letter to the editor in 2008, as Candon was preparing to step down from the Selectboard.

“Jack stepped forward at a time when issues and personalities had pushed town government to the edge of dysfunction,” Boone wrote. “The town has made considerable progress since then, in no small part as a result of Jack’s persistence and a broader view of what Norwich needs.”

Candon also withstood the challenges that teenagers can pose. Patrick Candon, now a middle school math interventionist who lives in South Burlington, said many of his memories of his father are of times he tested him.

Patrick went to Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, which required students who missed a class to attend a 6 a.m. Saturday study hall. During a drive one snowy morning to such a study hall, Jack Candon offered a lesson on how one’s actions affect others when Patrick responded, “Yes, but we’re making memories, Dad.”

“I don’t think he talked to me the rest of the trip,” Patrick said.

He also remembers the things Candon did for him when he was young. Patrick Candon played hockey and his dad, who didn’t skate, flooded an ice rink for him in the backyard, complete with lights.

“He was always there for his family, with whatever support was needed whenever it was needed,” Jack’s nephew Tom said.

Tom Candon credited his uncle with serving as an emcee for a wide variety of community events, including spelling bees, Town Meeting, public television fundraisers and Selectboard candidate nights.

He helped at figure skating shows for his great-nieces, Tom Candon’s daughters, who participated in them.

“He was so good at all of it because he brought a sharp intellect, wit and humor to everything he did,” Tom Candon, the nephew, said. “As a result, he had connections far and wide throughout the Upper Valley. After moving to Norwich 16 years ago, whenever I met someone new it was often followed by: ‘Are you related to Jack Candon?’ ”

In addition to being a loyal family member, Candon also was a loyal friend. Larry Draper first came to know Jack through Marty, with whom he worked at the old Dartmouth National Bank.

“He and I hit it off right away,” Draper, who lives in Enfield, said. “The rest is history so to speak.”

The Candons and Draper and his wife, Betsy, would often go out together on Friday nights, but they would return to one of their homes to watch “Dallas.”

“That became a recurring event for a few years,” Draper said. “We had a lot of fun with that.”

Draper and Candon also spent time together fishing, although Draper had to abide by Candon’s rules.

“Jack was a very proud Vermonter,” Draper said, adding that he only wanted to fish in Vermont. Though Draper lived in Hanover at the time, he had to get a Vermont fishing license. They mostly fished in the White River; often on Saturday mornings.

“I gave him the name of The Black Hole because he rarely caught a fish,” Draper said.

But there was one memorable 5- or 6-pounder that Candon caught. It was mounted and installed on clubhouse wall of the Lake Mitchell Trout Club, of which Candon was a longtime member .

“We just had such a good time together,” Draper said. “Laughter was always a part of it.”

They formed a bad-movie-of-the-month club of 10 or 12 men, various professionals, sometimes including Welch, who would go out to the movies when they identified one sure to be awful.

One member of the group would make the call and spread the word. Favored actors included Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

Welch said Candon could always be relied on to drive him to various political events around the state.

In Rutland, they would stop by the fabled Gill’s sandwich shop and in Pittsford they would stop by the graves of Candon’s father and grandfather. They’d visit Patrick in Burlington.

“What I really did admire about him, was his total sense of place,” Welch said, noting Candon’s trajectory from Rutland to the Midwest and then to the Vermont side of the Upper Valley.

“He was a person who was so grounded in his community,” Welch said. “He revealed how rich local life could be.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.