My nine years as pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of East Craftsbury, VT comprised a very special time in my life. I could name a dozen or more  folks in that church who nurtured my spirit in a variety of ways, and in fact have already written of two. Here is a third: Bob Kinsey.

I don’t have the biographical details right here in front of my keyboard, but I can tell you that Bob was a dairy farmer, and he and Eunice brought six or eight children into the world. (Someone who knows the family can straighten me out on that; it’s a fact I’ve forgotten.) With the farm and all those kids, Bob should have been too busy to run for office, but he wanted to be a state legislator. When he flew that idea (or call) by Miss Jean Simpson, the matriarch of the community, she told him he needed a college degree first, in order to be effective in state government. So, Bob fit that degree in, somehow.

And he got elected. Over and over. Every two years. For how many terms? Twelve? Fifteen? Does it matter? And most of the time, if not every time, he was challenged for that House seat by the bass who sat next to him in the church choir, Francis Whitcomb. Bob was a Republican; Francis a Democrat. They were political rivals, yes, but very good friends.

By the time I came on the scene as their pastor, that rivalry had been going on for many years. And on many Friday nights as the church choir gathered for their weekly rehearsal, if the legislature was in session, Bob would greet Francis with news from the floor of the House, sometimes giving him some paperwork that Bob thought he’d be interested in perusing. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone there at practice to hear Bob say with a twinkle in his eye, “Francis, after this week in Montpelier, I’m sorry you lost the election.”

Bob was the epitome of a fair and just politician. On the first Tuesday of every March, Vermont’s Town Meeting Day, Bob faithfully made the rounds of the town meetings within his jurisdiction and reported in to his constituents. His phone rang at home more often than he liked, especially if the calls came during a Red Sox game, but Bob knew it was part of the job. I took him to be a good listener, committed to hearing and considering all sides of an issue before casting his votes. And he rightly voted his conscience, not the politically popular or expedient route. Bob, over his many years in the House, made many friends from both (or in Vermont, all) parties.

Francis Whitcomb knew that as he walked up people’s snowy driveways to knock on doors and ask for their votes. Bob kept winning, election after election. And he and Francis still made nice music together at church.

An anecdote occurs here: a local community held a “Pie Festival” one weekend. The theme was anything and everything to do with pies. From bake-offs to kitchen gadgets, pie poetry and songs to, well, “cow pies.”  And a couple of local politicians were invited to engage in a cow pie tossing contest. To make the contest more fun, Bob saw that I was there and told the small crowd, “That’s Jeff Kellam, my pastor over in East Craftsbury. He’s thrown his share of manure on Sunday mornings, so why don’t we have him join us in the toss.”

I wasn’t exactly enthralled with that description of his beloved pastor, but I knew it was the politician in him joking around. I rose to the occasion, or lowered myself to it. Whatever. There was a bucket of dried up cow plops nearby, and several yards away, and empty bucket. “Reverend,” the other participant said, “do you want to wear one of these?” He pointed to some rubber gloves. I saw that he and Bob had no need of them, so I declined. No use being prissy about this. “You ever done this before?” he asked. No, I hadn’t.

Bob tossed his allotment first. Three misses. Then came the other guy. Three misses. My very first toss went straight into the bucket! No contest. I had won. And Bob exclaimed to the crowd, “Yep, that’s my pastor! I told you he was good at it!”

Bob was a writer of sorts. He wrote of politics and of Vermont’s yesteryear farm life in the local weeklies. Now and then he shared some writings with me, and I always delighted in his stories. I must point out here that Bob’s farm was small, and got smaller through the years as he sold off acreage to supplement his meager income. He and Eunice lived very simply, and except for the TV, VCR, and satellite dish, one would think that their home hadn’t changed much since the 1940s. Woodstove in the kitchen, roll top desk cluttered with Vermont House and constituent papers, and a huge family table that still welcomed big gatherings at special times.

Every fall, when pumpkins and gourds and large veggies were ready for harvest, Bob connected the produce and created “monsters” several feet long in his front yard. And his version of the Loch Ness monster (or Vermont’s own “Champ” allegedly seen in Lake Champlain) would grace the farm pond. It was near that pond that the church had its annual Labor Day Corn Roast, with the endless friendly debate over whether the corn should be roasted in the shuck or shucked and stuck on a stick.

When winter froze that pond over for months at a time, Bob encouraged family and church and community folk to skate on its ice. He’d clear off the snow with his tractor, and even provide a selection of skates for guests who needed them. The piece de resistance of the skating site was a three-story wooden tepee Bob himself built to provide warmth and toilet facilities for the skaters. It was a local attraction year-round, until vandals burned it down.

Though as far as I know those arsonists were never identified or caught, most of us suspected that the crime was revenge for Bob’s courageous stand for civil rights for gays and lesbians when Vermont was becoming the first state to offer civil unions. Bob broke from his more conservative colleagues and fellow Republicans and supported civil unions in particular and civil rights for gays in general, and the backlash was often mean-spirited, and ugly.

He lost his last election. If I remember correctly, Bob was defeated in a Republican primary, and would not face his friend Francis again. Sadly, the Republican winner of the race for Bob’s seat was almost inarticulate.

That might have been Bob’s last run anyway, it turned out. Cancer struck. As it did so very often among those Vermont farm families.

I so enjoyed Bob’s friendship, appreciated his leadership in the Vermont House, and had fun singing bass with him in the church choir. We shared tragedy and joy together. What respect I had for his hard, hard work and dedication.

If only there were more people, and politicians, like him.

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