Oliver retires after decades in town office

LEICESTER — After a lifetime of service to his town, Bob Oliver on Monday evening will spend his last town meeting sitting at the front of the Leicester Meeting House with the other members of the Leicester selectboard.

Oliver, who will mark his 85th birthday this month, has served as a Leicester selectman for over two decades. During that time he also completed a four-year stint in the state Legislature. He also sat on the Leicester school board for 21 years and the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union board for 17 years, and served as the Otter Valley Union High School director for nine years.

“Of course, I was on those at the same time,” Oliver said. “Otherwise I’d be a hundred years old!”

For such an involved member of the town government, Oliver is soft spoken and measured. When asked about his proudest moments in town government, Oliver said, “I’m not much for notoriety.”

Diane Benware, who served on the selectboard for the past 10 years with Oliver, said that there’s not a lot of glitz and glamour in what he did, just work and time and energy.

“He’s a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. On the hottest day in July, he’s out pulling weeds and watering flowers at the four corners,” Benware said. “He’s a real gentlemen, and he cares strongly about the community.”

Oliver has been far more than the town gardener, though. 

Among his accomplishments he counts the period between 1988 and 1992 when he served in Vermont Legislature as a Republican state representative. His district included the towns of Leicester, Salisbury, Ripton, Hancock, Goshen, Whiting and Sudbury.

“I went up to Montpelier in 1988. The funny thing was that my grandfather went up for the Legislature in 1888. Back then he only represented Leicester, though,” Oliver said.

Oliver’s ancestors have lived in Leicester since 1788. He said his family has been a part of town government since “taxes were 1 cent an acre.” Every municipal structure in town — meeting house, schoolhouses, town hall — was approved by Oliver’s forefathers. Oliver, who with his wife Margaret celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary last fall, has nine grandchildren, most of whom live in the area.

Now, after adding his own service to the record, Oliver will pass on the mantle to another generation of Leicester residents.

But Oliver isn’t ready to surrender all his duties.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do now. If they allow it, I’ll keep taking care of the premises,” he said. “I keep going while I can, because you’ll keep going longer if you don’t sit down with your feet up.”

“Bob’s responsive to people and responsible for the town,” Benware said. “He would be the one putting plastic on the windows or reminding us to check the roof. He had a sense of purpose about what he did.”

In his younger days, Oliver worked for Community Light and Power in East Middlebury, then later for Central Vermont Public Service Corp. He retired from the power business as an assistant superintendent at 67, and only now — 18 years later — is he approaching his second retirement.

Oliver sums up the decades of toil he contributed to town in his typically understated way.

“It’s my home and I enjoyed doing what I could,” he said. “I did what I felt like I had to do.”

The Leicester town meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 5, at the Leicester Meeting House 

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