Robert Stafford

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Robert Stafford
Robert Theodore Stafford.jpg
United States Senator
from Vermont
In office
September 16, 1971 – January 3, 1989
Preceded byWinston L. Prouty
Succeeded byJim Jeffords
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont's at-large district
In office
January 3, 1961 – September 16, 1971
Preceded byWilliam H. Meyer
Succeeded byRichard W. Mallary
71st Governor of Vermont
In office
January 8, 1959 – January 5, 1961
LieutenantRobert S. Babcock
Preceded byJoseph B. Johnson
Succeeded byF. Ray Keyser, Jr.
66th Lieutenant Governor of Vermont
In office
January 10, 1957 – January 8, 1959
GovernorJoseph B. Johnson
Preceded byConsuelo N. Bailey
Succeeded byRobert S. Babcock
13th Attorney General of Vermont
In office
January 6, 1955 – January 10, 1957
GovernorJoseph B. Johnson
Preceded byF. Elliott Barber, Jr.
Succeeded byFrederick M. Reed
Personal details
BornRobert Theodore Stafford
(1913-08-08)August 8, 1913
Rutland, Vermont, U.S.
DiedDecember 23, 2006(2006-12-23) (aged 93)
Rutland, Vermont, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Alma materMiddlebury College (BA)
University of Michigan
Boston University (JD)

Robert Theodore Stafford (August 8, 1913 – December 23, 2006) was an American politician from Vermont. In his lengthy political career, he served as the 71st Governor of Vermont, a United States Representative, and a U.S. Senator. A Republican, Stafford was generally considered a liberal, or "Rockefeller" Republican.

Stafford is best remembered for his staunch environmentalism, his work on higher education, and his support, as an elder statesman, for the 2000 Vermont law legalizing civil unions for gay couples.

Early life[edit]

Stafford was born in Rutland, Vermont to Bert Linus Stafford and Mabel R. (Stratton) Stafford.[1] Bert Stafford was a 1901 graduate of Middlebury College who practiced law in Rutland, and was President of the Rutland County National Bank. He served as Rutland County's State's Attorney, and was Mayor from 1915 to 1917, President of the Vermont Bar Association in 1930, and Chairman of the Vermont Board of Education.[2][3][4][5][6]

Robert Stafford earned his diploma from Middlebury College in 1935. While attending Middlebury College he joined the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. He briefly attended the University of Michigan Law School, and earned a law degree from the Boston University Law School in 1938.[7]


Upon his completion of law school, Stafford immediately entered local politics, serving as Rutland County's State's Attorney from 1938 to 1942. In 1942, he was commissioned in the Navy as a lieutenant commander, and served on active duty during World War II. He returned to Rutland County to become State's Attorney from 1947 to 1951, but returned to the Navy again in 1951, serving in the Korean War from 1951 to 1953.[citation needed]

Returning home again in 1953, he entered Vermont statewide politics, serving as Deputy Attorney General for the state from 1953 to 1955, and Attorney General from 1955 to 1957. In 1956, he was elected Lieutenant Governor, and in 1958 was elected Governor. Stafford's ascent to the lieutenant governorship and governorship was unusual in that he did not follow the path of most Vermont Republicans. From the founding of the party in the 1850s, Republicans in Vermont had made use of the Mountain Rule, which called for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to alternate between the east and west sides of the Green Mountains, and for governors to serve only two years in office. U.S. Senators were also allocated according to the Mountain Rule, with one from the east and one from the west. Under this system, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor were chosen by the party years in advance, and served in leadership roles in the Vermont General Assembly, including Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives and President of the Vermont Senate. Stafford is one of Vermont's few governors who did not serve in the legislature. By the late 1950s, the Democratic Party in Vermont was becoming increasingly competitive, and in the 1958 election, Stafford won the governorship over Bernard J. Leddy with only 50.3% of the vote.

Official Vermont State House portrait

In 1960 Stafford was the Republican nominee for Vermont's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, supported by all factions of his party because he was regarded as the strongest challenger to Democrat William H. Meyer, who had broken the Republican Party's 100 year hold on statewide offices by winning election to Congress in 1958. Stafford won, and was subsequently reelected four times, serving in the House from January 3, 1961 to September 16, 1971.[8]

In September 1971, he resigned his seat in the House to accept appointment to the Senate, temporarily filling the vacancy caused by the death of Winston L. Prouty. Stafford won the January 1972 special election to serve out the rest of Prouty's term and won reelection twice, serving for slightly over 17 years, until his retirement in 1989. He chaired the Committee on Environment and Public Works from 1981 to 1987.

While in Congress, he helped pass a law, now known as the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, or Stafford Act, to coordinate federal natural disaster assistance.

Stafford's support of weapons sales to Nicaraguan contras led to the Winooski 44 protest.

As he neared retirement from the Senate, New York Times writer Philip Shabecoff wrote in a profile of Stafford that his tendency to keep his own counsel meant he "may give the worst interview of any public official in the capital." Stafford commented on his own reputation for maintaining a low profile by saying "I talked more when I was younger."[9]

Death and legacy[edit]

In 1988, Congress renamed the Federal Guaranteed Student Loan program the Robert T. Stafford Student Loan program, in honor of his work on higher education.[10]

In 2007, Congress renamed the White Rocks National Recreation Area in the State of Vermont as the "Robert T. Stafford White Rocks National Recreation Area."[11]

Stafford died in his hometown of Rutland on December 23, 2006 and is interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Rutland.[citation needed] His wife Helen Stafford died February 27, 2011, at the age of 93.


  1. ^ "Stafford, Robert Theodore (1913-2006)". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  2. ^ Wiley, Edgar J. (1917). Catalogue of Officers and Students of Middlebury College. Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College. p. 338.
  3. ^ Vermont Legislative Directory. Montpelier, VT: Vermont Secretary of State. 1929. pp. 516, 568.
  4. ^ Manning's Directory: Rutland City and Township, West Rutland and Proctor. Springfield, MA: H. A. Manning Company. 1936. p. 5.
  5. ^ The Vermont Bar Journal & Law Digest, Volume 18. Montpelier, VT: Vermont Bar Association. 1992. p. 26.
  6. ^ Journal of the Senate of the State of Vermont. Montpelier, VT: Capital City Press. 1913. p. 1035.
  7. ^ "Vermont Governor Robert T. Stafford". National Governors Association. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  8. ^ "Sen. Robert Stafford". Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  9. ^ Shabecoff, Philip (28 December 1988). "WASHINGTON TALK: THE SENATE; Quiet Vermonter Who Makes His Words Count". New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Student Loan 101: All About Stafford Loans". The Street Network. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  11. ^ "Congressional Record 109th Congress (2005-2006)". The Library of Congress. Retrieved October 10, 2012.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
F. Elliott Barber, Jr.
Vermont Attorney General
Succeeded by
Frederick M. Reed
Political offices
Preceded by
Consuelo N. Bailey
Lieutenant Governor of Vermont
Succeeded by
Robert S. Babcock
Preceded by
Joseph B. Johnson
Governor of Vermont
Succeeded by
F. Ray Keyser, Jr.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
William H. Meyer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Vermont's at-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Richard W. Mallary
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Winston L. Prouty
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Vermont
Served alongside: George Aiken, Patrick Leahy
Succeeded by
Jim Jeffords
Preceded by
Jennings Randolph
Chairman of Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee

Succeeded by
Quentin N. Burdick