The brilliant, irrepressible, irresistible Paul Bruhn, one of Vermont’s most effective leaders and beloved citizens, passed away on Thursday the 19th of September. In addition to being the founder and Executive Director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, Paul was a giant in the field of historic preservation and community development, and a key leader on the Vermont Council on Rural Development Board who will be greatly missed. Paul was the magic catalyst and kind orchestrator who galvanized countless community development and historic restoration projects across Vermont—over 1,500 at last counting—and inspired and encouraged community leaders like no one in his generation of Vermont patriots of place.
A lifelong Vermonter, Paul started his career in public service as Senator Patrick Leahy’s first campaign manager in 1974, and was the Senator’s first Chief of Staff for four years in Washington, where he was instrumental in finding the resources to drive the development of Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace. In 1980, Paul helped found the Preservation Trust of Vermont, whose mission is to “initiate, stimulate and assist local and statewide efforts to preserve and use Vermont’s rich collection of historic, architectural cultural and community resources.” With the Trust, Paul has helped communities throughout Vermont conceive, plan, and implement revitalization projects from the Grand Isle Lake House and Putney General Store to the Vermont Marble Museum, Richmond’s Round Church, and the Single Chair at Mad River Glen.
Paul served on our Board of Directors for 8 years, and was our Secretary at the time of his passing—giving him power without responsibilities—a touchstone role that Paul played everywhere he went—providing humor, deep counsel, teasing banter, and the last word—always encouraging, empowering and bringing out the best in everyone around him. With VCRD, Paul had been a member of the VT Council on Culture and Innovation which framed out the idea of a framework and mission for the creative economy in Vermont; he later served as a key member of the Council on the Future of Vermont and participated for years as an active leader of the VT Working Lands Coalition. In 2017, VCRD recognized Paul’s greatness with the Vermont Lifetime Leadership Award celebrating his transformational role in historic preservation and community development in Vermont.
As we visit one of Vermont’s iconic general stores, admire the beauty of a historical building in a quintessential Vermont downtown, or take a stroll down Burlington’s Church Street, we will forever be participating in the legacy of Paul Bruhn. We will miss his admonitions and his laughter; his deep seriousness and joy in life. Impossible though it may be, all of us here at VCRD will strive to live up to Paul—his model of service, love of place, kindness and humor, and dedication to all the people of Vermont.