Sallie Thompson Soule
Loving wife, mother, and mentor to many, Sallie Soule, 91, long of Shelburne, Vt., and lately of Fort Myers, Fla., died on June 11, 2019 in Fort Myers after a life well lived.
Sallie was born in Detroit on May 13, 1928, and was raised in Grosse Pointe, Mich.. She was the second of three daughters born to Hayward and Elizabeth Thompson. Sarah Goodwin Thompson, as an elementary school student, adopted the name Sallie and it stayed with her throughout her life. She graduated from Milton Academy in Massachusetts in 1946 and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Smith College in 1950. An active Vermont Democrat, it would surprise many to know that she wrote her thesis at the University of Vermont (UVM) on the formation of the Republican party in the state of Vermont. She earned her Master of Arts degree from UVM in 1952.
Following her studies at UVM, she moved to New York City and worked for Macmillan Publishing. In 1957, she moved to Rochester, N.Y., where she met her future husband, Gardner Northup Soule, and they were married in Charlotte, Vt. on July 26, 1958. For 10 years, she worked at the Brighton-Pittsford Post, a suburban weekly in the Rochester, N.Y.-area, writing feature articles and profiles. In 1968, the Soule family moved to Vermont to make their home on Shelburne Point.
As a couple, Sallie and Gardner were continual supports to one another, be it in business or in community affairs, although they were not always on the same page politically. Together, they purchased Horsford’s Nursery in Charlotte, which Sallie managed for almost a decade. Sallie and Gardner were the co-chairs of the first Vermont Public Television auction in 1975. In 1976, Sallie was asked to run for the Vermont Legislature as a Democrat representing both Shelburne and Charlotte. In that tight election year, she didn’t know if she had won until 11 p.m. when the town clerk told her that her pile of ballots was higher! She was re-elected in 1978 and, in 1980, she ran for the State Senate to represent Chittenden County, and was the only Democrat from outside of the “Burlington Block.” She won her seat in the Senate with a campaign fund of just $2,000. She even managed to get her husband’s vote (Gardner was a lifelong Republican and he often commented that she was the only Democrat he ever voted for willingly). She was again successful in the 1982 Senatorial campaign. Sallie earned a reputation as an honest politician who would always listen to both sides and then state exactly where she stood on an issue. She was particularly well known for her support of issues important to women and mental health advocates.
Believing in term limits, Sallie chose not to run for re-election in 1984. At that time, the Burlington Free Press headlined an editorial that acknowledged her tenure in Montpelier, “A Champion Bows Out.” They highlighted her work on the Appropriations, Energy, Natural Resources and Administrative Rules Committees and as a legislative representative to the Vermont Judicial Nominating Board. She then became Commissioner of Employment and Training, now the Department of Labor, in May of 1985 in the administration of Vermont’s first woman governor, her dear friend Madeleine Kunin. While serving in that role, she and Gretchen Morse, who was Commissioner of Health and Human Services, created the Reach Up Program, foundation of the Champlain College Single Parent Program.
During her political career, Sallie was in business with four women friends who together in 1978 founded Bygone Books, a used bookstore located on lower Main Street in Burlington. Her partners were Betty Van Buren and the late Barbara Wadhams, Jane Tormey, and Priscilla Welsh. The business dissolved in 1998, but the devoted friendships were lasting.
The National Governor’s Association recognized Sallie for Distinguished Service to State Government. Other accolades continued throughout her life, the most recent coming two years ago when she was the recipient of the first annual Madeleine Kunin Lifetime Achievement Award by Emerge Vermont in 2017.
Sallie was active in her local community in a myriad of ways. A founding director of the Vermont Women’s Health Center, the Vermont Community Foundation and the Vermont Women’s Fund. She was chair of the Vermont Employment Security Board and served on the boards of the Preservation Trust Vermont, Vermont Council on the Arts, Vermont Public Television and the Wake Robin retirement community. Governor Kunin named her to the UVM Board of Trustees in 1989. She later served on the UVM Advisory Board for the College of Arts and Sciences and was a member of the Advisory Board for the College of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences.
Sallie adored her husband, her family, her community and the beautiful state of Vermont. While wintering in Florida she was an active volunteer at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation for 20 years. She cared deeply about books, bridge, backgammon and the environment. The only regret she had in life was that she never reached the summit of Camel’s Hump!
Sallie’s loving husband died in 2006. She was predeceased by her parents, and her elder sister, Katharine Thompson Serrell.
She is survived by the loves of her life, her daughter, Sarah Goodwin Soule, of Shelburne; her son, Trumbull Dickson Soule and his wife, Linda, of Ellicott City, Md.; her stepson, Gardner N. Soule Jr., and his wife Sally of Victor, N.Y.; and her stepdaughter, Nancy Soule Carroll, and her husband Edward of Brevard, N.C. She leaves six grandchildren: Peter Soule, Heidi Soule and Molly Fenster, Chloe Brown, Elizabeth Soule Cameron and Amanda Franklin, and their families, including seven great-grandchildren: Sabra and Hazel Goveia, Eleanor and Andrew Soule, Oscar, Isaac, and Evelyn Fenster. Her sister, Marion Thompson Adams of Exeter, N.H., survives her along with numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service for the benefit of neighbors in Florida was held at the Village Church at Shell Point, Fort Myers, Fla., at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday, June 15 with Pastor John Danner of the Sanibel Congregational Church of Christ presiding.
A Celebration of Life for her friends and family will be held at the Charlotte Congregational Church in Charlotte, Vt., at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 7. She and Gardner were married in that church. Interment at the Thompson-Stone-Patrick Mausoleum at Lakeview Cemetery will be private. She will be interred with five generations of her family.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Sallie’s honor can be sent to the Vermont Women’s Fund, c/o Vermont Community Foundation, 3 Court Street, Middlebury, Vt., 05753 or Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ, 2050 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, Fla., 33957