'Feisty to the end'
By Darren Marcy
Staff Writer | January 29,2014
Beverly Mayo was a tough-as-nails political force with a heart of gold, according to friends who remembered her.
Mayo, of Castleton, died Sunday in Rutland. She was 90.
Friends remembered Mayo, the “Duchess of Castleton,” as an independent spirit, loyal friend, family woman, a force of nature, feisty and a Vermont legend.
Several important figures revealed they had been on the receiving end of Mayo's sense of humor.
Former Gov. Howard Dean said Mayo goosed the gubernatorial backside on multiple occasions.
“She was only one in the state that could get away with pinching the governor on the butt,” Dean said. “She did that a few times.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy and Castleton State College President Dave Wolk both said Mayo had snuck up behind them on occasion.
Leahy remembers Mayo lamenting that with her walker, she wasn't fast enough to catch up to them at times as age crept up on her.
But Mayo was more than fast enough to chase down political victories for those she championed.
The list is something of a who's who in Vermont politics, including governors Tom Salmon (1973-77), Madeleine Kunin (1985-91), Howard Dean (1991-2003) and James Douglas (2003-11).
Dean said he met Mayo at the 1980 Democratic National Convention where he was supporting Jimmy Carter and Mayo was supporting Ted Kennedy.
They became fast friends and launched a relationship that was personal and professional andonly strengthened with time.
“It was impossible to be in Democratic politics in Vermont and not know Bev Mayo,” Dean said.
The one-time Democratic presidential candidate said if you wanted to win in Rutland County, you called on Mayo.
“Rutland County is always a tough county for Democrats, especially on the liberal side,” Dean said. “I went to her and asked her to help me in 1986. At the top of her game there was nobody better than Beverly Mayo.”
Kunin remembers running for office when Gilbert Godnick, then Rutland's mayor, called her a “liberal hippy.”
“Bev came to my defense,” Kunin said. “She was a feisty political force. You definitely wanted her on your side.”
Her support of Democrats went back her work for U.S. senators, including then-Sen. John F. Kennedy.
She later worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy and maintained a friendship with him until his death.
Those early years helped form her politics and she referred to herself as a Kennedy Democrat, maintaining close ties to the Kennedy family through the years.
Sen. Patrick Leahy remembers telling Ted Kennedy he was heading home to Vermont and Kennedy telling him, “If you see Bev Mayo, giver her a hug for me.”
“Ted stayed close to her right up to when he died,” Leahy said Tuesday. “John Kennedy used to ask me about her. The Kennedys loved her.”
But Mayo's dedication to Democrats wasn't stronger than her dedication to supporting a person she believed in strongly.
She crossed party lines to support Republican James Douglas' run for governor.
“I was honored to have her support and consider her a friend,” Douglas said Tuesday. “She was a longtime Democrat but decided to offer her support to me and I'm always grateful. It lent tremendous credibility to my campaign.”
He added, “Vermonters are usually independent. Bev was the epitome of the rugged independence that we cherish in Vermonters.”
Douglas said he and his wife, Dorothy, went to see Mayo just after Christmas and he teased her.
“I looked around the room and said, 'Boy, there's an awful lot of photos of Democrats in here,” Douglas said.
Mayo perked up and said, “'Not all of them,'” he said. “She was feisty to the end.”
Leahy said Mayo never hesitated to give advice and he learned to listen to her whether she was agreeing with him or telling him he had gotten something wrong.
“Some people are interested (in politics) just for their self interests, she was interested in everybody in Vermont,” Leahy said. “She never once asked me for anything for herself. It was always, 'Don't you think more should be done for kids, or farmers?' She cared about people.”
Rep. Peter Welch said Vermont has lost a legend who was larger than life.
“She was so blunt and effective and there for everyone,” Welch said. “She did not suffer fools gladly and that included most of us who at one time or another strayed from the Bev Mayo straight and narrow. She was full of love and full of energy and didn't have an ounce of pretense in her. All of us who knew her were lucky.”
Around Castleton, Mayo was something of a lightning rod, but was well respected.
Holly Hitchcock said Mayo will be missed.
“She was something,” Hitchcock said. “She was a grand old gal. She was also a consummate political animal. If Bev were still around and still viable, we wouldn't have this split in this town. It's a sad loss.”
And Wolk, who met Mayo while running for the state senate in 1988, said she remained interested right to the end.
“She voted for and supported individuals she thought was going to make a difference,” Wolk said. “There's no one like her. There never was and never will be anyone quite like her.”
Dean and Wolk went to see Mayo just before Christmas, and Dean wore one of the several sweaters she had knitted for him over the years.
“She told me she was planning on getting out in the spring,” Dean said. “Even in the nursing home, she was kind of running everything.”
Leahy said his one-minute phone calls always lasted a half hour or more.
“We'd end up talking for a half an hour and laughing our heads off,” he said.
Leahy said she always told him she loved him and recounted their last visit.
“The last time I talked to her, I said, 'Bev, I love you, I love you a lot,'” Leahy said. “She said, 'I love you and Marcel.' We sat and held hands and cried. She was a wonderful woman.”