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Sue Bush
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Leo Ethier: A Life Well Lived

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Leo Ethier Dec. 2005
Stamford, Vt. - Leo Ethier led by deed and example, someone who pitched in elbow-deep to get the job done. He was an educator and an innovator, a man whose counsel, guidance, and ability impacted an entire community.

Ethier died on Feb. 8 at age 59 after a valiant battle against esophageal cancer. Ethier was the principal of the Stamford Elementary School and a former Stamford Volunteer Fire Department fire chief.

No One More Deserving

On Feb. 6, during a monthly meeting, members of the Stamford Volunteer Fire Department unanimously voted to name Ethier "Honorary Chief," which is a permanent title and a high department honor.

"That's exactly what it is, an honor, and I can't think of anyone more deserving than Leo," said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Costine.

Ethier is survived by his wife Carol, two sons, town Fire Chief Paul Ethier and Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Ethier, and daughters-in-law Linda Ethier and Jennifer Ethier.

Ethier was among the most respected of town firefighters, if not the most respected, said Costine.

"Leo was a phenomenal [water] pump operator," he said. "It was comfort to be on the other end of a line [hose] with Leo. You knew he wouldn't let you down."

The Guy You Could Count On

Costine and Ethier lived an almost equal distance from the Stebbins Lane firehouse, Costine said.

"It was always kind of between the two of us who'd get there first, and then we'd have a ribbing session afterward about it," he said. "Usually, Leo'd be driving the engine and I'd be the passenger and we'd be planning what we were going to do to handle the fire."

Ethier was a "planner" who worked tirelessly behind the scenes, Costine said.

"He never wanted any fanfare," he said. "Leo was the guy you could count on, he was always there."

34 Years At Stamford School

The flag at the Stamford Elementary School flew at half-mast on Feb. 8 in honor of school Principal Leo Ethier.The flag at the town fire house was at half-mast as well.
Ethier's 34-year career at the Stamford school is filled with accomplishment, said Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Dr. Peter Wright.

Ethier spent one year teaching at the K-grade 8 school before assuming a dual role as an instructor and school principal. His official title for the past eight years was principal, but Ethier tackled a host of school responsibilities, according to Wright and School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Lamore.

"Leo was a pretty creative guy," Wright said during a Feb. 8 telephone interview. "He was not only an instructional leader but he kept the facility running."

Ethier could be counted on as a substitute teacher for academics and physical education, and he was known to whip up a school lunch or two when necessary, said Lamore. He performed school maintenance chores, and knew details such as when the school's boilers were installed.

Ethier served as the school's water and fire alarm inspector, and as a qualified first responder, he was able to offer emergency first aid to injured students, said Lamore.

"I think he might have even driven a school bus," she said. "He sat in on who knows how many parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings, and he tracked Stamford students after they left the school. He was very proud that our kids did well once they left here. He sat on the Stamford pre-kindergarten board and he wanted to know the little ones who were coming up."

A team of grief counselors led by school guidance counselor Ruth Innes has been assembled and will be present at the school during the upcoming days.

School board member Janice Farinon is also a member of the fire department Board of Trustees.

Great Community Leader

"[Leo] left a wonderful legacy," Farinon said. "He was always involved in every aspect of community. He was wonderfully community-oriented and he raised a family that way. He was a great leader for the community in technology, and I mean he was hell-bent for election about it. He was an excellent administrator, very organized. He saw to it that things got done and a lot of the time, he did it himself. He had a wonderful sense of humor and he was wonderful to work with. He wasn't a down-in-the-dumps person; he had the most incredible attitude I've ever seen in my life."

During the 1970s, Ethier taught math to Scott Lamore and some years later, when Lamore joined the town fire department, Ethier taught him to drive a standard-shift fire truck, Lamore said.

"What comes out of my heart is that every person that came out of that school was impacted by Leo Ethier," Scott Lamore said. "He was a teacher, a principal, a fire chief, a husband and a father. Leo has done more for this town than anyone can imagine."

Always Ahead of the Curve

Ethier was a member of the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Council, an entity that works closely with Wright, Wright said.

"Leo was a valuable contributor on that board and we're going to miss him," he said. "He was a tremendously positive educator. Leo was always ahead of the curve and was instrumental in the T-1 line [at the Stamford school], which made Stamford pretty avant garde as far as rural school districts were concerned. He utilized all available resources for the students and he stayed on top of all the programs."

Ethier's efforts and quests for excellence generated exceptional results; under his leadership, the school was named a "Gold Medallion School" in 2004. Only one state-based school is chosen each year for the Vermont Business Roundtable honor.

Stamford school students most often attend high school in Massachusetts and are among those who pass the academically-challenging, mandatory 10th-grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test , although the students do not take the fourth and eighth grade MCAS tests.

"Our kids do very well," said Farinon. "The quality of our school is a reflection of Leo."

Ethier was granted a leave of absence from the principal post on Jan. 12. Carole Fossbender, a grade three-four teacher and longtime school secretary Deb Davignon are sharing principal duties. All school staff "have really pulled together and worked through this phenomenally," said Farinon.

Ethier attended a Dec. 2005 holiday concert at the Stamford school.

Stepping Up

Ethier was an individual who could, and would, rise to challenging occasions, Farinon and Cynthia Lamore said. Both recalled the death of town Fire Chief Robert Costine [the father of Deputy Fire Chief Robert Costine], who was killed during a firefighter drill during the late 1980s.

Costine was a long-time, well-respected chief and firefighters were reluctant to place themselves in contention for the chief's post.

Ethier was ultimately elected fire chief, and held the post for five years.

"It was a trying time," said Farinon. "And Leo stepped up and did very well."

"He was like my father's right-hand man when my father was chief," said Costine.

Love, Admiration, Respect

The community paid tribute to Ethier on Feb. 5 with a parade along the town's main street that ended at Ethier's home. Well over 200 children and adults walked behind a fire truck and a state police cruiser, Farinon said. After arrival at Ethier's home, the gathering sang "Happy Birthday", sent over 200 balloons skyward, and then sang "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow."

Town firefighters assisted with blowing up the balloons and participated during the event, Farinon said. A portion of the roadway, which is governed by the state, was closed with permission of state highway officials for the parade.

Ethier ventured outside to greet the mix of friends and neighbors, Lamore said.

"When he saw how many people had come, he went right outside," she said.

"It was a wonderful thing," Farinon said. "The turnout was indicative of the tremendous love, admiration, and respect that this town has for him. It was a wonderful tribute to Leo."

Leo's Legacy

Ethier's decades of community service created a kind of community currency that has unlimited value, Cynthia Lamore said.

"He was so committed to the community, to his friends, and so committed to education and children," Lamore said. "The years of service - you can't even begin to thank someone for that."

"He was so involved, so active, he impacted so many lives in such a positive way," said Farinon. "He stood for something. And if you haven't stood for something, if you haven't touched lives, then what the hell did you live for? That is Leo's legacy."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.

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