Family, community react to passing of Tony Pomerleau

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont is saying goodbye to a legend. Tony Pomerleau died last night surrounded by his family. He was 100.

Tony Pomerleau-Photo provided by Pomerleau family

He grew up poor in Newport but eventually worked his way into real estate, running an empire out of a landmark building on College Street in Burlington. Pomerleau was also known for his influence around the state, giving back millions to improve communities.

Friday, people and organizations around the state mourned Pomerleau's passing.

"I really don't think we could have drawn it up in a better way than how it happened-- him surrounded by the people who were closest to him," Drew Waxler said of Tony Pomerleau's passing.

Waxler is Pomerleau's grandson.

"He had 10 children, 13 grandchildren and he made time for all of us," Waxler said.

Life lessons he says he learned from his grandfather include taking pride in the work you do, loving your work and giving back.

"You grew an appreciation for what impact he had on the community and how he had just developed this name and legacy over time," Waxler said.

A legacy that the real estate mogul left at communities around the state from the Northeast Kingdom to the Queen City. In the Burlington area, buildings bear his name: the police department, the alumni center at St. Michael's College, the Boy's and Girl's Club, and the YMCA.

"It's really hard for us at the Pomerleau Family Y to imagine the world without him," said Kyle Dodson, the CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA. "He's kind of a ubiquitous presence here at the Y and in the community."

Dodson says Pomerleau was a consummate dealmaker with a sharp eye for value and investments, even ones that weren't aimed at profit.

"I think you're fortunate to have people like Tony Pomerleau who see investment as something beyond that which gives you a direct financial return," Dodson said.

Investments in the next generation. His Christmas parties for kids in need were well-known. And the Y and others benefitted from his philanthropy. The Y couldn't put a dollar amount on how much he donated over the years, but they saw the impact those dollars had.

"That's the investment," Dodson said. "And the return is healthy young adults and healthy adults who had the proper support as children."

Some of the projects bearing his name aren't done yet, like the Y's new building-- Pomerleau donated $2 million. And then he gave another $1 million to the new sailing center, set to have its grand opening in early June.

"It's a continuation of his presence after he passed," Waxler said. "And it's always nice to get a positive reminder of the people that you've lost."

Waxler says though his grandfather has passed on, his family will continue his legacy.

"We're not going anywhere," he said. "So I think as long as there's a Pomerleau in Burlington, you'll see the name around."

The family tells WCAX News they are working on setting up some sort of community event to honor Pomerleau's life. Those details are still being worked out.

Vermont's U.S. senators are also fondly remembering Tony Pomerleau.

Sen. Patrick Leahy's wife, Marcelle, is one of Pomerleau's nieces. Sen. Leahy spoke of how much Pomerleau loved his family, telling a story about a recent baptism.

"But the thing we remember the most is right after mass that morning, he sat there with his great-grandchild on his lap as that great-grandchild was baptized. The pictures I took, I'll always cherish, a hundred years apart and this little child looking up and beaming," said Leahy, D-Vermont.

And Sen. Bernie Sanders also shared a personal story about Pomerleau.

"When I first ran for mayor of Burlington back in in 1981, I ran against the waterfront proposal that he had on the table. I campaigned vigorously against it. We killed it. But the day after I took office, he was in City Hall saying, 'You know what? You're the mayor. Let's figure out how we can work together.' And he was on the police commission and he did a great job and we worked on a whole lot of issues during my tenure as mayor and have continued to work together over the years," said Sanders, I-Vermont.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, released a statement celebrating Mr. Pomerleau's life, saying, "He set a positive example for all of us at a time when we desperately need positive role models, and his generosity has impacted the lives of so many."

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