Former Brattleboro Police Chief Richard Guthrie dies at 75
Bagpiper Eric Goodchild plays outside St. Michael’s Catholic Church before the funeral Mass for former Brattleboro Police Chief Richard Guthrie last Saturday.

Former Brattleboro Police Chief Richard Guthrie dies at 75

BRATTLEBORO — In his homily at the funeral Mass for former Brattleboro Police Chief and Windham County Sheriff Richard Guthrie at St. Michael's Catholic Church on Nov. 22, the Rev. James C. Dodson said Guthrie was the embodiment of St. Francis of Assisi's famous aphorism: “Preach the gospel always and, when necessary, use words.”

Guthrie, 75, a lifelong resident of Brattleboro who died Nov. 18 at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital after suffering a heart attack, was a beloved figure in his hometown who gave back to his community in countless ways.

Guthrie had a long career in law enforcement, joining the Brattleboro Police Department in 1961 at age 21, the youngest police officer ever hired by the department at the time. He eventually became police chief for two terms, 1984 to 1985 and 1996 to 1997.

“He had police work down to a science,” said current Brattleboro Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald.

He later served on the Windham County Sheriff's Department from 1987 through 1996, becoming sheriff for Windham County. During his tenure, he also served as acting police chief for Vernon for one year.

Guthrie was also very active in the community.

Youth Services development director Nanci Leitch said Guthrie played “a very important role” in that organization's early years.

He had a strong rapport with area youth; he was a big backer of court diversion and appreciated how important it was to reach young first-time offenders before they got into trouble again.

“He always believed that good people sometimes make bad decisions,” said Fitzgerald. “He went out of his way to make sure that kids in trouble got the help they needed.”

“Look around you,” said Rev. Dodson in his homily. “Everyone in church this morning has at least one story or experience or memory of Dick that illustrates the unique aspects of his loving, caring, thoughtful, and giving personality.”

In the church were students from St. Michael's School, whom he guided across Walnut Street as a crossing guard.

There were police and fire personnel from Brattleboro and beyond who either served with him, or were inspired to serve because of him.

Even the funeral home who handled the arrangements for his services, Atamaniuk Funeral Home on Terrace Street, were comrades, for Guthrie worked part-time there, and at other funeral homes in town over the years.

Inside the church where he was a lifelong parishioner, there were hundreds of people who remembered him fondly for his service to the town he loved so well.

Born to the job

Guthrie wanted to be a police officer since was a young boy. And he looked up to the men on the police force when he was a youth growing up on South Main Street.

He was hired by the Brattleboro Police Department in 1961, when he was 21. He was the youngest police officer ever hired by the town, and worked his way up the ranks from juvenile officer to chief of police.

Fitzgerald said Guthrie was the last police chief to lead the department without ever having gone through the police academy.

“That speaks volumes about his knowledge, the knowledge he got from the officers that mentored him when he started out,” said Fitzgerald.

Guthrie's approach to policing endeared him to generations of residents, said Fitzgerald.

“He knew how to talk to people, and he knew that there was no substitute for having officers be downtown and talk to people,” Fitzgerald said. “They have all kinds of names for it now, like 'community policing,' but Chief Guthrie was doing these things 40 years ago.”

Like Guthrie, Fitzgerald grew up in Brattleboro, and he said that he had known him all his life. Like Guthrie, he went to St. Michael's School, and Guthrie's wife of 50 years, Marjorie, was a teacher.

“He has been a big part of my life, and when I retired from the Marine Corps and wanted to come back home, he was the man who hired me to be a patrolman. To this day, even now, I always think, 'what would he say and how would he do it?'”

Being a police officer can be a time consuming job, but Guthrie found time to be a trustee of Thompson House Nursing Home and the former Linden Lodge nursing home, to serve on the board of Rescue Inc., to be active in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and to serve on the St. Michael's Parish Council.

He was a longtime member of American Legion Post 5 in Brattleboro, and served two terms as Post Commander. He led the Memorial Day services on the Town Common for many years, and the former member of the Vermont National Guard was also part of the Legion contingent that helped give the town's veterans a respectful send-off at their funerals.

Guthrie was also proud of his garden, particularly his Gilfeather turnips. In his later years, he loved giving talks on Brattleboro history to area nursing home residents. Most of all, he was someone who loved his town, and gave back to it in so many ways.

“We needed him to stick around for another 50 years,” said Fitzgerald. “This town will miss him.”

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