Obituary: Paul Alan Bruhn, 1947-2019 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Paul Alan Bruhn, 1947-2019 

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy’s first chief of staff devoted his life to preserving Vermont

Published September 23, 2019 at 6:00 a.m.

click to enlarge Paul Bruhn
  • Paul Bruhn

On September 19, 2019, Paul Alan Bruhn of South Burlington died of having too much fun. It was his heart that finally couldn’t keep up with him.

He was born March 27, 1947, in Burlington, the son of Marion and Elmer Bruhn. His father died when Paul was just 5 months old, and his mother was left to run the family business, Bruhn Office Equipment on Church Street in downtown Burlington, as well as raise three young children. The first two were probably easier than the last one.

Paul is survived by his very special friend Colleen O’Neill of Cornish, N.H.; his former partner Christine Graham of Burlington and North Bennington and her two sons, Finnegan Calabro and his wife, Clare Beams, and their daughters Tess and Joanna of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Max Calabro of Portland, Ore.; his sisters Janet Lum of Orcas, Wash., and Beverly Major and her husband, Randolph, of Westminster West, Vt.; his former wife Kathleen Stankevich of Springfield; numerous nieces and nephews; his "brother" Pat Robins and Lisa Schamberg, who didn't know she was getting a package deal; his colleagues and board members at the Preservation Trust of Vermont; and lots of special friends.

The high point of his academic career was at the Tom Thumb Nursery School. He later graduated (barely) from Burlington High School in 1965, where playing basketball was his biggest interest, and he briefly attended the University of Vermont.

In spite of an uninspiring academic record, he was lucky enough to have three very special careers. In 1966, Proctor and Ruth Page took him under their wings and provided him with an education in journalism and the newspaper business. Later they supported his effort to edit and publish a monthly magazine for Chittenden County. Chittenden Magazine operated for four years, ending publication in 1973. Paul often said those years working for Proc and Ruth were his "college" education.

After a brief stint in the Chittenden County State’s Attorney's Office, he ran Patrick Leahy's first campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1974. He then served as Sen. Leahy's chief of staff in Washington, D.C., until returning to Vermont in 1978. (That was his second college education.) He operated a consulting business for several years and became the first executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont in 1980, a position he held until his death.

He had great passion for his work with the Preservation Trust and the people in virtually every community in Vermont who work hard every day to save and use their historic places, and who value and support their downtowns and village centers. It would be hard to overstate how much he cared about Vermont.

He received a number of honors and awards, including an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Vermont; an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Green Mountain College; the President's Award from Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the Hildene Award; the Richard Carbin Award for Community Service from the Vermont Land Trust; the Cowbird Award from the Vermont Land Trust; the Arthur Gibb Award for Individual Leadership from Smart Growth Vermont; the Franklin Fairbanks Award from the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury; the Bernice Murray Award from the Vermont Community Development Association; the Nate Harris Award from the Downtown Burlington Business Association; the Pizzagalli Excellence Award; the Vermont Council on Rural Development Lifetime Leadership Award; and the Vermont Economic Advancement Award from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. During his tenure as executive director, the Preservation Trust received the Trustees' Award for Organizational Excellence from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Paul served on the board of many organizations, including the Visiting Nurse Association, Howard Mental Health, the Vermont Community Foundation, Smart Growth Vermont, the Vermont Council on Rural Development, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Vermont Life Advisory Board, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Board, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Local First Vermont, Vermont Public Television, the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Board of Advisors.

Special thanks to heart surgeon Frank Ittleman; doctors Henry Tufo, Dan Lustgarten, Claudia Berger, Stephen Ades, Grace Johnstone and “Stephen” Robins; and massage therapist Laura Emerson, whose care and skill provided Paul with many bonus years. Memorial gifts may be made to the Preservation Trust of Vermont, 104 Church St., Burlington, VT 05401.

There will be a celebration of Paul’s life on Friday, October 11, 1 p.m., at the Breeding Barn at Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT.

Arrangements have been entrusted to the care of the Cremation Society of Chittenden County, a division of the Ready Funeral Home, 261 Shelburne Rd., Burlington, VT. Please visit to place online condolences.

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