Editorial: Tributes for a mentor to many
Lauded as a long-time academic scholar at Middlebury College, author, philosopher, columnist, devoted husband, mentor to Middlebury selectboard members and good friend, the passing of Victor Nuovo, 91, last week prompted a half-an-hour tribute by former and current selectboard members at Tuesday night’s meeting. He would be humbled by such praise.
In a career devoted to teaching philosophy to college students, while devoting much of his scholarly work on the philosopher John Locke through an association with Oxford University in London, his more recent joys and commitment were to his adopted town and wife, Betty. Reporter John Flowers captures that story on today’s front page extremely well.
Of particular note, Victor first joined the selectboard in 2006 and worked diligently on a committee that planned a state- and federal-funded Cross Street bridge that was ultimately turned down by the federal Department of Transportation. That defeat prompted Victor to play an instrumental role in encouraging the college to help the town fund the bridge on its own. The town had spent 50 years, on and off, discussing the need for such a bridge but had failed to get it done — that is, until this unique town-gown collaboration pulled off what was then, and still is, considered a minor miracle in municipal projects. The bridge was completed in October 2010, and the community celebrated with a party that demonstrated an optimism in the town’s future that was as jubilant as it was prophetic.
A few years later, Victor was again instrumental in a deal with the college to help construct the town’s new municipal building — moving it out of the old, decrepit, and inefficient high school building and creating a new park on that former site. Both were highly controversial issues at the time but are now seen as helping redefine and improve the downtown’s appearance and traffic flow.
Victor would protest that such praise is overblown, that he was part of a broader group of selectboard members who worked hard to get the projects passed and built. And, of course, he would be right. But it’s the praise of those very members that’s revealing, as recorded in today’s story and captured in this quote by former selectboard chair John Tenny: “Victor Nuovo was a gift: a teacher, a philosopher, a public servant, a mentor and a strong conscience for the town….”
And in this comment by selectman Dan Brown: “He was the ‘deep thinker’ when thinking about the impacts (of decisions) on the people in town and how what we did would affect the community. A lot of the time his (input) would center us on the greater good.”
This newspaper, and this publisher, also benefitted from his wisdom and generous nature. Starting in the fall of 2010, Victor would write a weekly column of essays for the Addison Independent that was a review of Western thought through the perspective of philosophers beginning with Plato to more recent times. It began as a trial series of 10 essays, but because of encouraging feedback and Victor’s own love of sharing knowledge with the community, his essays have been a unique and valuable feature of the Independent for much of these past 13 years. Through those essays and our discussions of them, we developed a fast bond that I fantasized was akin to the well-known book Tuesdays with Morrie by author Mitch Albom, only, regrettably, our meetings were not nearly so frequent and work here far too disruptive to give it such devotion.
Nonetheless, the time spent with Victor, often over a cup of tea at Stone Leaf Teahouse in the Marble Works, was enlightening. Besides learning about each philosopher, what Victor hoped to teach all of us was that by understanding the origins and development of Western thought, including the adoption of and respect for laws that established a sense of order and equity, we could better understand our roles as citizens in today’s civil society.
Such insight is why so many considered him a mentor.
In the past 40 years I’ve been at this desk writing this forum no other selectboard member has received such a glowing tribute from fellow members, and others throughout the community.
Former state representative and Middlebury businessman Paul Ralston made an excellent suggestion that the town name the Cross Street Bridge in honor of both Victor and Betty, who was a community leader in her own right. To that end, a descriptive plaque telling of the town-gown relationship that built the bridge would provide not only the sense of a community working together but of the invaluable role individuals can play.
It’s an honor, fitting of Victor and Betty, that endows the town with a visible legacy of citizens working for the greater good.
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