Remembering Tony Pomerleau

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Tony Pomerleau is well-known in Vermont for the time and money he has given back to the community over the years. The 100-year-old real estate magnate and philanthropist died Thursday evening.

Tony Pomerleau

"I think, you know, when you're lucky and so many people need help, you just pass it on," Pomerleau once told WCAX News.

The simple philosophy of a self-made millionaire who never forgot his roots.

Pomerleau's annual Christmas parties provided fun and food for hundreds of underprivileged kids.

Pomerleau himself grew up poor in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. He made his way to Burlington in 1946 as a shoe salesman. He later bought a failing grocery store, and soon branched into real estate, making his first million by age 45, and eventually running his family empire from the landmark Follett House on College Street.

Perhaps Pomerleau's most notable development project is one that was never built-- a grand plan for the Pomerleau Towers on the Burlington Waterfront in the early 1980s. It called for the construction of the four tallest buildings in Vermont containing luxury condominiums.

WCAX Reporter: Won't you be open to a charge that it will be a province for the rich?
Tony Pomerleau: They'll have more access-- if the city wants to work with me.

But the city did not, and Pomerleau eventually abandoned the plan.

That did not sour Pomerleau's relationship with the community. He served on numerous boards and committees, including 17 years on the city police commission. He was never afraid to speak his mind or exercise his authority in pursuit of a first-class police force. And when the department was desperate for a new headquarters in the '90s, Pomerleau answered the call, providing the city with a spacious new building.

"The town, in general, was very good to me and I felt it was right to give something back," Pomerleau said.

His giving did not stop there, among his donations: $1 million to St. Michael's College for a new building, and $1 million each to the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and for people who lost mobile homes during Tropical Storm Irene.

Pomerleau's philanthropy brought him the honor of Citizen of the Year from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce in 2012.

He was also featured in the Channel 3 News Super Senior series.

Reporter Joe Carroll: What's your greatest accomplishment?
Tony Pomerleau: My family.
Reporter Joe Carroll: Not the millions of dollars?
Tony Pomerleau: Nahhh!

Pomerleau and his wife Rita raised 10 children. Kids and grandkids were often aboard when Pomerleau was relaxing on his on his 70-foot yacht on Lake Champlain.

When he turned 90 in 2007, he threw himself a birthday bash, taking a moment to explain the secret to his lifetime of success.

"So you gotta, you gotta take a gamble. You gotta have a vision. You gotta look ahead. Yesterday's gone by. Today's gone by. So you gotta think of tomorrow," he said.

Now there are no more tomorrows for Tony Pomerleau, but the legacy of this larger-than-life man lives on.

In a statement to WCAX News, the Pomerleau family said: "Our dad often said that everything has an expiration date except him. He was so right because I know that together, our family and the Vermont community will carry forward his spirit and legacy. While every one of us may not accomplish as much and reach as many lives as he has, in this next century we can each be loving family members, caring neighbors and generous souls to shine in his example."

Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders released a statement that said: "Tony Pomerleau, a friend for over 35 years, was one of the most remarkable human beings that I've ever met. His love for Vermont and the city of Burlington was contagious, and his incredible generosity helped thousands of families in our state. Jane and I send our condolences to the Pomerleau family."

In a statement, Vt. Sen. Patrick Leahy said: "Marcelle introduced me to her Uncle Tony nearly sixty years ago when I was a young college student. Within a very short time, he was making me feel like a member of the family, and he became Uncle Tony to me also. Our children, and then our grandchildren, always saw him as Uncle Tony when we would visit him and his wife, Rita.

"During the past few days Marcelle and I, and the children and grandchildren, have talked about Tony, and the memories of our associations over the years flood back.

"We think of his enormous philanthropy in Vermont, his caring about Vermont and people throughout Vermont society. We think of the good he has done for others, but in the end we think of a loving member of our family, and while not unexpected, it is a loss that will be felt by all of us over the generations.

"Perhaps so much is summed up in the memories Marcelle and I have of being at the baptism of his great-grandchild last year at the time of Tony’s birthday. A hundred years separated the two of them, but the love in Tony’s face was the same love we have seen for decades."

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott released a statement that said: "I'm deeply saddened at the passing of our friend, Tony Pomerleau, and I send my sincere sympathy to his wife Rita, son Ernie, and the entire family.

"I feel fortunate to have known Tony, and Vermont was fortunate to have him. He gave so much to others and was a leader in his community and beyond. You don't have to look any farther than the attendance and appreciation expressed at his 100th birthday party, which we celebrated last fall, to see how much he meant to Vermont. That's because he was always willing to help his neighbors, he had incredible work ethic, and he treated others with respect.

"He was the quintessential Vermonter and embodied our Vermont values. 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. For all this - and so much more - he will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on for generations."