Galbraith’s son speaks of father’s Vermont connection

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(Host) Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who died over the weekend, was also a part-time resident of Vermont.

Galbraith summered in Windham County for almost sixty years.

His Vermont neighbors recall him fondly.

And according to his son, who spoke to us from the Galbraith home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the feeling was mutual.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports:

(Keese) It was 1947 when John Kenneth Galbraith bought an old farmhouse at the end of a dirt road on the Townshend/Newfane line.

Galbraith’s son Peter Galbraith says his father did much of his writing there.

(Peter Galbraith) “Particularly in the 1950s and sixties you could get away from things being in Vermont where there was just party line phones and so he could just do what he liked to do which was get up, go for a dip and then sit in his office or study and work for three or four houses and then have lunch, take a walk. My mother sometimes referred to these walks as death marches cause he was so tall and everybody had to scurry to keep up.”

(Keese) Galbraith’s lanky six-foot-eight frame made him a familiar figure locally. His quick wit and ability to talk with anyone made him popular.

Local friends and neighbors recall him as a great raconteur who loved to socialize. The family had an open house at their farm at the end of every summer, and people from all walks of life were invited.

Dr. Bob Backus of Grace Cottage Hospital was Galbraith’s physician and friend.

(Backus) “He was one of the community. He was accepted as one of the community. He didn’t ask to be anything other than that and he got what he wanted. He got to be himself here.”

(Keese) Galbraith gave back in many ways. He often had his honoraria from speaking engagements sent directly to Grace Cottage Hospital or Newfane’s Moore Free Library.

Peter Galbraith says his father had many invitations to speak, but he almost always accepted the ones from Vermont.

(Galbraith) “He advised the Vermont Democratic party and all the democratic governors – Phil Hoff and Tom Salmon and Madeleine Kunin and Howard Dean. He actually George Aiken once tried to recruit him to run for the senate in 1964 against Winston Prouty although Aiken was a Republican, and my father was a Democrat.”

(Keese) Peter Galbraith says his father was proud of Vermont’s early ban on billboards and throwaway cans. He says the state’s environmental policies could have been a direct response to warnings Galbraith raised in his best-known book, The Affluent Society.

(Galbraith) “Vermont is a very Galbraithian state. Maybe it’s a happy coincidence but that was certainly one of the things he loved about Vermont.”

(Keese) John Kenneth Galbraith will be honored in a Memorial Service at Harvard later this month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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