Robert S. Babcock, Jr., reporter, sculptor and father

On July 23, a perfect Vermont summer day, Robert S. Babcock, Jr. left this world for a better place.  He died peacefully at the McClure Miller Respite House in Colchester after a long illness. Bob was born in Washington D.C. in 1942 while his father was stationed at the Pentagon.  In 1947, the family settled on the old Van Sicklen farm in South Burlington. Bob graduated from Burlington High School in 1960 and went to the University of Rochester for his undergraduate degree and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University for his master’s degree in journalism. Shortly thereafter, he married his college sweetheart, Gretchen Ging, whom he met while teaching skiing to the women’s gym classes at Rochester.

After serving in the U.S. Army as a public information officer, Bob returned to Vermont as a reporter for the Rutland Herald and later the Burlington Free Press.  While covering the gubernatorial campaign of 1968, he wrote a series of articles exposing the environmental degradation caused by unplanned and unregulated second home development near Vermont ski areas. These generated widespread concern about overdevelopment in southern Vermont that led to the 1970 passage of Act 250, Vermont’s pioneering land use law.  Bob was appointed the first executive director of the Environmental Board under Act 250.  His early understanding of the need for environmental activism prompted him to start Vermont Tomorrow, an environmental lobby group that was instrumental in the passage of several important pieces of legislation including Vermont’s landmark “bottle bill.” Bob also created and launched Green-Up Day in 1970, which has been an uninterrupted annual Vermont tradition for over 50 years.

In the late 1970s, Bob headed the Vermont State Employees Association, where he convinced the Legislature to pass a long-overdue 16.6% salary increase for state workers.  During this time, he and Gretchen raised their two children in Montpelier and supported their many activities—skiing, camping, Little League, foreign student exchanges, and school sports. Several years later, he returned to state government for a term as director of the Vermont Lottery before joining a lottery manufacturing company in sales and marketing.  Located first in the Washington D.C. area, he eventually became European sales director, residing in London and Zurich.

When Bob and Gretchen returned from Europe in 2002, they headed back to Vermont to enjoy Bob’s semi-retirement and some of his favorite activities—golf, tennis, kayaking, Red Sox games, and sculpting. Bob taught wood and stone sculpture at the Torpedo Factory Art Center while living in the D.C. area and at the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in West Rutland. He made many visits to the old family camp on Ritterbush Pond in Eden VT, now the Babcock Nature Preserve, containing over 1,000 acres of public land donated by the family.

Bob is survived by his loving wife of 56 years, Gretchen, and their two children, Rob Babcock, his wife, Stephanie, and their two children, Nicole and Jason, of Bethesda, MD, and Shannon Babcock and her two children, Jake and Danielle, of Chicago IL.  Bob also leaves two sisters, Julie Babcock of Ambergris Caye, Belize, and Marty and her wife, Kas Kinkead, of Seattle, WA, along with four nephews and a niece and their children, all of whom he taught to play poker. He was predeceased by his parents, Robert S. Babcock, Sr. and Alice Ann “AA” Babcock of South Burlington and two siblings, Ann Babcock Henderson and Peter Babcock.

The family would like to thank Bob’s dedicated caregiver, Dawn LaCross, and physical therapist, Keta Clark, along with Drs. Emily Greenberger and James Boyd, for their many years of committed care, and the staff at the McClure Miller Respite House who provided care and comfort during his final days. Instead of flowers, Bob would be very happy if you made a contribution to an environmental or arts organization whose work you admire.  A celebration of Bob’s life is being planned for September.