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Paul Bruhn, 1947-2019


It is with great sadness that we share the news that our beloved friend and leader Paul Bruhn has passed away.

As PTV’s first and only Executive Director, Paul has been a tireless voice for building community and preserving the essential character of Vermont. Few if any people have had a bigger impact on Vermont over the last forty years. His full obituary is below.

There will be a celebration of Paul’s life on Friday October 11 at 1:00 pm at the Breeding Barn at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, VT.

We will miss him dearly. 

— Neale Lunderville, Chair, Preservation Trust of Vermont Board of Directors

Obituary

On September 19, 2019, Paul Alan Bruhn of South Burlington died of having too much fun.  It was his heart that finally couldn’t keep up with him.

He was born March 27, 1947, in Burlington, the son of Marion and Elmer Bruhn.  His father died when Paul was just five months old, and his mother was left to run the family business, Bruhn Office Equipment on Church Street in downtown Burlington, as well as raising three young children.  The first two were probably easier than the last one.

Paul is survived by his very special friend Colleen O’Neill of Cornish, NH, his former partner Christine Graham of Burlington and North Bennington and her two sons Finnegan Calabro and his wife Clare Beams and their daughters Tess and Joanna of Pittsburgh, PA, and Max Calabro of Portland, OR; his sisters Janet Lum of Orcus, WA, and Beverly Major and her husband Randolph of Westminster West, VT; his former wife Kathleen Stankevich of Springfield, numerous nieces and nephews, his “brother” Pat Robins and Lisa Schamberg who didn’t know she was getting a package deal, his colleagues and Board Members at the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and lots of special friends.

The high point of his academic career was at the Tom Thumb Nursery School.  He later graduated (barely) from Burlington High School in 1965, where playing basketball was his biggest interest, and he briefly attended the University of Vermont.

In spite of an uninspiring academic record, he was lucky enough to have three very special careers.  In 1966, Proctor and Ruth Page took him under their wings and provided him with an education in journalism and the newspaper business. Later they supported his effort to edit and publish a monthly magazine for Chittenden County.  Chittenden Magazine operated for four years, ending publication in 1973.  Paul often said those years working for Proc and Ruth were his “college” education.  After a brief stint in the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office, he ran Patrick Leahy’s first campaign for the U. S. Senate in 1974.  He then served as Senator Leahy’s Chief of Staff in Washington, DC, until returning to Vermont in 1978. (That was his second college education.)  He operated a consulting business for several years, and became the first executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont in 1980, a position he held until his death.

He had great passion for his work with the Preservation Trust and the people in virtually every community in Vermont who work hard every day to save and use their historic places, and who value and support their downtowns and village centers.  It would be hard to overstate how much he cared about Vermont.

He received a number of honors and awards, including an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Vermont, an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Green Mountain College, the President’s Award from Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Hildene Award, the Richard Carbin Award for Community Service from the Vermont Land Trust, the Cowbird Award from the Vermont Land Trust, the Arthur Gibb Award for Individual Leadership from Smart Growth Vermont, the Franklin Fairbanks Award from the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, the Bernice Murray Award from the Vermont Community Development Association, the Nate Harris Award from the Downtown Burlington Business Association,  the Pizzagalli Excellence Award, the Vermont Council on Rural Development Lifetime Leadership Award, and the Vermont Economic Advancement Award from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.  During his tenure as executive director, The Preservation Trust received the Trustees’ Award for Organizational Excellence from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Paul served on the board of many organizations including the Visiting Nurse Association, Howard Mental Health, the Vermont Community Foundation, Smart Growth Vermont, the Vermont Council on Rural Development, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Vermont Life Advisory Board, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Board, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Local First Vermont, Vermont Public Television, the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Advisors.

Special thanks to heart surgeon Frank Ittleman, and Doctors Henry Tufo, Dan Lustgarten, Claudia Berger, Stephen Ades, Grace Johnstone, and “Stephen” Robins, and massage therapist Laura Emerson whose care and skill provided Paul with many bonus years.  Memorial Gifts may be made to the Preservation Trust of Vermont, 104 Church Street, Burlington, VT 05401 or online here.

There will be a celebration of Paul’s life on Friday October 11 at 1:00 pm at the Breeding Barn at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, VT.

Recent News about Paul Bruhn

National Grant Program Renamed in Honor of Paul Bruhn

Paul Bruhn, 1947-2019 | Vermont Business Magazine

Remembering Paul Bruhn, Executive Director Of Preservation Trust Of Vermont | Vermont Public Radio

Vermont mourns a protector of its history | Featured | Rutland Herald

Vermont Preservationist Paul Bruhn Dies | VT Digger, Off Message

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Please feel free to leave your thoughts, condolences and stories here.

    Last week I had dinner with him at his house in South Burlington. Even though I have been working for PTV for 18 years, it is rare that we are ever alone together — usually there are board members, or staff, or friends, or a party (because he loved parties). But on this occasion it was just the two of us. We ate outside overlooking Shelburne Bay and chatted not so much about work, but about his childhood. He told me about his relationship with his mother, and how he wasn’t a very good boy (he once got caught shoplifting, and once removed his mother’s rock garden without her permission to make a bigger basketball court). He shared that his mother intended to leave their Burlington home to his two sisters, and he was to be left the lesser-value “camp” on Shelburne Bay but only on the condition that he graduate from college. He never graduated, but still got the property upon her death. He chuckled when he said, “Now that I have two honorary degrees, I think she would be proud.” Indeed, she would be VERY proud of him.

    We laughed and shared our respective gratitude for one another. I feel so lucky to have had that evening with him. I will miss him.

  2. What a loss, but how remarkable the number of good memories left within all of us! I think everybody has a special story or two to share. For my part, I’ll mention a recent one, which is that I was lucky to see Paul three times the week before he passed away. We’d been to so many meetings and events together that after a couple of days of *not* seeing each other, he emailed to ask where I’d been – a fun example of both Paul’s humor and genuine interest in remaining connected with the many people in his life – both important lessons that he conveyed. Here’s to Paul!

  3. Paul was a great help to me as a new preservationist in Vermont over 20 years ago. He guided and nurtured us through many transitions at the Vermont Granite Museum. I will miss his council, and spending wine filled evenings on retreat!

  4. Paul and I were on the Marketing Committee of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors when the VSO was celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary 34 years ago. We took some form of the Orchestra into all of Vermont’s 251 towns. People thought our plan was crazy. I am so glad that we really didn’t know it could not be done, because we did it.

    Paul’s work with the PTV gave him a chance to return to so many of the towns where we made music. When we remember Paul, we re-member Vermont, the possible regardless of probability.

    The last time I saw Paul, was at Hardwick Chiropractic. We joked that we’d have to stop meeting “face down.” Now, let’s face each other, join hands, and sing “Hallelujah!” Paul will conduct.

    Paul holds a special place in my heart, as do so many I have known through him and with him. May his memory continue to bless us all.

    Trish Alley
    Greensboro, Vermont

  5. I have had the great pleasure of working with Paul over most of the time that I was involved in VHCB, VLT and Smart Growth, what a tremendous person. I am lucky to have known him and saddened that his time has come to an end sooner than it should. He will leave a mark of achievement on Vermont which will be difficult to match. Thank you Paul

  6. Paul was that smart friend who knew when to push and when to be patient, who thought outside the box and quietly moved mountains with his persistence and love of historic preservation. He turned my interest in preservation into a vocation, stoked the passion and helped make the connections that allowed me to add my skills to the community efforts to respect, conserve and use cultural resources that have had such spectacular results here in Vermont and beyond. He was one of a kind; we won’t see his like again soon, but he’s left a spark in all of us that will burn brightly in his honor for many years to come. While saving the past for the future he made the present a hell of a lot of fun, too!
    Here’s to smooth seas and a following wind wherever his path has taken him. He’ll be missed.

  7. I only knew Paul indirectly while working with Meg on building this web site. But it was obvious in all of work done by the trust, the people Paul chose to be part of this, how generous and caring his spirit was. He leaves a legacy.

  8. All of us at Stone Valley Arts at Fox Hill in Poultney are deeply saddened to hear of Paul’s passing. He stands alone, for me personally, as a role model who made the public good his life’s work. We are all grateful for the generosity of Paul’s spirit and the wisdom of his vision. The Board at SVA benefited from his encouragement and leadership, which included being gently and appropriately chastised when needed. Paul worked to preserve Poultney’s 1822 old stone church, a work in progress. He helped SVA to create a community art center in that space, a public good that will live beyond all of us and will continue to serve our community for many decades to come. We are proud and grateful to be a small part of Paul’s enormous legacy of service to the people and places of Vermont.

    David Mook for Stone Valley Arts at Fox Hill, Poultney, VT

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