Doyle honored with emeritus status


Agathe Fredette

Former Governor Jim Douglas and Bill Doyle

More than 60 people gathered on May 7 at Johnson State College in the Stearns Dining Hall to celebrate the retirement of former state senator and JSC professor Bill Doyle. The event was attended by state legislators, a supreme court justice, former governors, a former VSC chancellor, JSC alumni, current and retired faculty and staff, as well his family and many friends.

Doyle was stationed front-and-center, with his wife Olene sitting to his left and former governor of Vermont Jim Douglas on his right. A podium was positioned left of their table, which was periodically occupied by Dean of Administration Sharron Scott, who served as emcee for the event. Over the course of the ceremony, Scott introduced a series of prominent guests who wished to speak in honor of the man of the hour.

Leading off was Northern Vermont University President Elaine Collins, who read statements of gratitude from Douglas and Senator Bernie Sanders before announcing that the Vermont State Colleges System Board of Trustees would be granting Doyle emeritus status.

“Since tomorrow is Bill’s 92nd birthday,” said Collins as she wrapped up her speech. “I would like to conclude with leading us all in singing ‘the birthday song,’” to which the crowd responded with a rousing rendition.

Following Collins was a brief appearance by John Tracy, who is Senator Patrick Leahy’s state director. “Unfortunately, Senator Leahy was unable to be here tonight as he is busy in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “But as his representative, I would like to present Bill with this [United States] flag on behalf of the United States Senate.”

Up next was VSCS Chancellor Jeb Spaulding, who began by pointing out some of the more famous faces in the audience before reflecting on the impact Doyle had on his own political career. “He taught me everything I needed to know about campaigning,” Spaulding said. “Like that you could go to multiple church suppers in one night. Sometimes we would go to three in a row and eat at all three. You had to finish with the pie. All three times.” In a more serious vein, Spaulding also spoke of Doyle’s long list of contributions to Vermont politics, stressing his ability to bring political parties together.

Spaulding then convinced Douglas to leave his position next to Doyle and step up to the podium. Douglas playfully resisted before addressing the room and providing a few of his favorite Doyle anecdotes.

After Douglas returned to his seat, Scott summoned the duo of Vermont State Senator Donald Collins, who is a member of the JSC class of 1964, and former Vermont State Senator Vince Illuzzi. Both men mirrored Douglas’ speech by sharing their personal memories of Doyle. Illuzzi did the majority of the storytelling, with the most memorable vignette being the time he was with Doyle in New Orleans, Louisiana, representing the Republican National Convention. “Somehow Bill got us in to meet Muhammad Ali,” Illuzzi said proudly.

Collins and Illuzzi were followed by Chair of the VSCS Board of Trustees Churchill Hindes, who took a unique approach to his time at the podium. Instead of discussing his personal connections to Doyle, Hindes opted to vocally imagine what his experience would have been had he taken a famed Doyle course at JSC. He pictured himself as a senior, presenting a proposal hypothesis claiming Vermont as the most civically engaged state to the recently retired professor. Hindes then attempted to guess what Doyle’s analysis would be in response to his pitch before departing with an exemplary compliment of the esteemed former state senator. “Bill Doyle is the nonagenarian poster boy for public service in Vermont,” he said.

Next came the penultimate presentation, which was led by Vermont Representative and JSC alum Dylan Giambatista. “Bill Doyle opened our eyes to a new world and dared us to get off of the couch and do something,” he said, among other comments. He then called up two more Vermont representatives and JSC alums in Dan Noyes and Matt Hill, who gladly joined Giambatista in bestowing Doyle with an honorary resolution they had crafted at the State House.

The night’s final speaker was JSC Director of Development and Alumni Relations Lauren Philie. Philie explained that she was going to read a letter from her predecessor Sally Laughlin, who was forced to miss Doyle’s celebration due to a family emergency. Her letter described the highlights of her 18 years working with him at JSC, and how proud she is to have helped raise the necessary funds for his “Life in County” video series, which Doyle created in collaboration with JSC students.

The celebration concluded with an extended standing ovation for Doyle. Many guests gathered around his table to greet and congratulate him, while others gazed at the slideshow toward the back of the room, which had been cycling through pictures, quotes and facts from the man of the night. Lastly, Scott invited everyone to visit the new granite Bill Doyle bench located in front of the library before departure.