It was 2001. The northbound Vermonter pulled into the Bellows Falls station those many years ago, and a solitary man climbed down the stairs and onto the platform. He was pulling a small suitcase behind him.
As he went past me, I acknowledged him with a “Good evening, Senator, and thank you.”
He nodded, smiled as if he understood what I meant, and moved on to the parking lot to look for his car.
No limo. No driver. No aides. No sidekicks. No pomp. No circumstance. A U.S. Senator simply taking the train home for the weekend.
* * *
James Jeffords, who died Aug. 18 at the age of 80, was a very great man. A rock-ribbed Vermont Republican, in 2001 he moved across the aisle when George W. Bush and the radicals from whom he curried favor in exchange for power started tilting our country toward a far-right nightmare that continues to this day and from which we might never recover.
“At the heart of Jeffords’ decision was a belief that Republicans in general and President Bush in particular had become too conservative and that he could not remain in a party that favored tax breaks for the wealthy over full funding of education programs for the disabled,” Dave Gram of the Associated Press wrote in Jeffords’ obituary.
For a while — for a short while — he tipped the balance of power toward the people he loved and served and toward the values for which he stood.
He was a courageous man.
I was proud to come from the state he represented, and I am grateful that I had an opportunity to thank him when I could.