David Ainsworth, one of last working dairy farmers in Vermont House, dies at 64

  • Former state Rep. David Ainsworth, R-Royalton, speaks about his legislative experience during a debate with Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, at the South Royalton School in the rematch for their two-town seat on October 24, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

  • David Ainsworth of Royalton, Vt., gives one of his dairy cows a shot while working in the barn on July 3, 2007. (Valley News - Ikuru Kuwajima) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Ikuru Kuwajima

  • David Ainsworth checks in with the farm during a break in a special session of the Legislature on July 11, 2007. (Valley News - Ikuru Kuwajima) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Ikuru Kuwajima

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/1/2019 12:28:21 PM
Modified: 6/1/2019 7:09:56 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON — Former state Rep. David Ainsworth, a fifth-generation dairy farmer and civic fixture in Royalton, died on Friday at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center after a series of health problems. He was 64.

“He was fighting right up to the end. He had plans for us to do on the farm that we are doing our best to make sure they happen,” his wife, Peggy Ainsworth, said Saturday morning. “It was just these last two weeks that he went downhill very quickly.”

A graduate of South Royalton High School and the University of Vermont, Ainsworth served as town moderator for 25 years and was one of the last working dairy farmers in the Vermont House, where he served three terms.

A traditional Vermont Republican who represented Royalton and Tunbridge, he served on the House Agriculture Committee and then the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife.

House Agriculture Chairwoman Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, said Ainsworth could appear to have a gruff demeanor to those who didn’t know him, but underneath lurked a “heart of gold” and a passion for preserving Vermont’s dairy industry.

“There are a number of people who come from more urban areas who don’t understand what farm life is all about, and David was a really strong voice for the farmers,” Partridge said.

Former House Natural Resources Chairman David Deen, a Westminster Democrat who worked on water-quality issues, said that while he and Ainsworth often differed, he was a well-intentioned legislator. “David always wanted to get to some level of resolution,” Deen said.

And former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, himself a longtime moderator in Middlebury, said Ainsworth was a “great Vermonter” and “a decent man” who represented the agriculture sector well.

“He expressed his views clearly, but he always respected those of others. We need more public servants like him who will reach across the aisle to find common ground,” Douglas said via email.

While respected by his colleagues, Ainsworth also struggled to hold his seat as the old farm town district became more progressive.

He served two terms in the Vermont House after winning election in 2006, lost the seat by one vote in 2010, but then narrowly won it back in 2016 from Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, on a 1,005-1,003 tally.

Ainsworth underwent a kidney transplant in 2016, later was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder known as chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, then developed a staph infection that had him hospitalized and in rehab centers for three months.

Still, he made it back for some votes in Montpelier — and also onto his tractor — though the Ainsworths rely on a farmhand who tends to the herd. Members of the Central Vermont Tractor Club last spring also helped till their cornfields, a sign of the unity and regard for the family in the White River Valley.

He lost the seat in 2018 to Tunbridge Democrat John O’Brien, who won by a comfortable margin.

More recently, Ainsworth was undergoing chemotherapy for skin cancer, but he remained a presence at the farm, which includes a farmstand along Route 14 that sells corn and tomatoes. And he continued to help Peggy raise two school-age granddaughters.

Other survivors include a son, Luther, named for a Civil War ancestor; a daughter, Graidi; a grandson; and a stepdaughter, Emily Perkins.

Peggy Ainsworth, herself a former selectwoman in Royalton, said funeral arrangements are incomplete, and that her husband had shown signs of his old self before his final downturn.

“For a while I thought he was doing well,” she said. “He started talking politics and water quality.”

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.

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