Tony Pomerleau celebrates a century well-lived

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) You probably know his name, through his business dealings or charitable gifts, and on Thursday Tony Pomerleau celebrated a milestone.

Tony Pomerleau

Reporter Darren Perron: How would you describe yourself?
Tony Pomerleau: Well, I'm a self-made man.

He made millions, and made a name for himself as a real estate mogul. His Burlington office building is symbolic -- a pillar of the community.

Reporter Darren Perron: Are you willing to reveal your net worth?
Tony Pomerleau: Have any idea?
Reporter Darren Perron: I have no idea. That's why I'm asking.
Tony Pomerleau: Nah -- it's pretty good.

But Tony Pomerleau grew up a poor farm boy in the Northeast Kingdom. First in Barton, and then in Newport. He wasn't the best student, but he became a brilliant businessman. "I had four friends all smarter than me, but they ended up working for me," Pomerleau said.

His first jobs included mowing lawns and cutting hair for a quarter. "I don't know how they looked after I got through," he recalled with a laugh. But Pomerleau's big break came when he began decorating store windows. He quickly climbed the corporate ladder. He'd later own stores -- lots of them. He changed the way people shop for goods forever. Instead of clerks fetching items behind the counters for customers, he created aisles for browsing. It worked and he sold more stuff. "I never lost money on any business," he said.

That's saying a lot for a man who's been wheeling and dealing for nearly a century. Tony Pomerleau just turned 100. "I am very fortunate I've had extremely good health," he said, knocking on his wood table.

What's the secret to his longevity? "Marry an Irish girl," he laughed.

He and Rita had ten kids, and Pomerleau says they're all set for life financially from his real estate empire. That's partly why he gives so much money away. He won't say how much, but it's in the millions. "I know they need it," he said. "I've been very fortunate in life, and so I pass it on."

Signs of his donations are everywhere. He's known for throwing Christmas parties for needy kids, and for military families.

Pomerleau loves Vermont and its people, but he's particularly fond of the Northeast Kingdom and for the kindness he received as a young man. "I'm kind of proud of me coming from Newport. And now I know you're from Barton, I'll put Barton on it too," he said, sporting his red "Make Newport Great Again" baseball cap.

The hat may look familiar, but make no mistake, the republican is no Donald Trump fan. In fact he admits he votes for the best candidate no matter the party. So, should he have run for office? "Absolutely not," Pomerleau said. He says real estate was his calling, and he's had the same business model since the beginning. Slow growth. Never too many projects at once, and all within a hundred miles of Burlington. "I always do that and never changed. I've been very successful at it," he said.

But most importantly, he says, play fair. Offer a reasonable prices, and don't burn bridges. Perhaps it's why he's so respected, still doing business, and with no plans to quit, even at a hundred. "I'm still here. I'm going to be here," he said.

Pomerleau says one of things he's most proud of -- he's never been sued or sued anyone during his lifetime of making deals.