Man asking question dies during Rockingham town meeting
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | March 06,2013
BELLOWS FALLS — Life and death overshadowed the usual talk about budgets and elections in one Vermont town.
Residents were still in shock Tuesday after one of their fellow citizens was stricken and died on the floor of Rockingham town meeting.
John Fuchs, 67, of Bellows Falls, died Monday evening of a heart attack, just as he was waiting for an answer to his question about the problems with the stalled $2.9 million renovation project at the Rockingham Free Public Library.
Fuchs slumped back into his seat at the Bellows Falls Opera House, and let the portable microphone fall to the floor, where it rolled down the pitched floor, tipping people off that something was drastically wrong, said several people who were near Fuchs when it happened.
Rockingham Select Board Chairman Thomas MacPhee, who was in the process of answering Fuchs’ question about the library, said it wasn’t immediately clear what happened. But once the static from the microphone was broadcast, people rushed to Fuchs’ side.
A woman doctor who was attending the town meeting was the first to rush to his side, MacPhee said, and a male nurse also assisted. Then members of the Bellows Falls Fire Department moved Fuchs from his seat to the movie theater’s aisle so people could better perform CPR, and eventually apply a defibrillator three times. MacPhee said the town has several sets of defibrillators stashed in different town buildings, including one at the opera house.
Fuchs was eventually taken to Springfield Hospital, and his death was announced at town meeting after 10 p.m., as the meeting wound down. The meeting had been delayed for about 30 minutes, as emergency workers tried to save him.
Andrew Smith, a Bellows Falls village trustee, said Fuchs was a “very dear friend” who was pursuing a serious question about the library renovation project, which had been stalled for weeks when Baybutt Construction Co. walked off the job and failed to pay its subcontractors, throwing the project into turmoil.
“As important as John’s concerns were, agitated or angry wasn’t his style,” said Smith Tuesday. “He was strong, clear, and calm and measured, right up until he dropped the microphone. If I had to sum up John’s requirements of his government, above all it was no nonsense.”
Fuchs had suffered three heart attacks 18 years ago, including a massive one, said his son, Johnny Fuchs, a New York City firefighter, who said his father was living on “borrowed time for 18 years.”
The younger Fuchs said his parents moved to Bellows Falls from Brooklyn in 2001, returning to Vermont after a 30-year hiatus. Earlier in their marriage, they tried to run a small farm in Fletcher, Vt., from 1974 to 1980, but returned to his father’s native Brooklyn, where his father taught in a Catholic school, ran a landscaping business, and published articles on horticulture and history. The couple had two sons.
But the lure of Vermont was still strong, and he said his father and his mother Deirdre looked up and down the Connecticut River Valley for a new home, moving to Center Street in downtown Bellows Falls in 2001. They were looking for a community where they could live and not have to drive, he said.
He said his father continued publishing articles on horticulture and history, and worked part time at the Stonewall Farm in Keene, N.H., a nonprofit agricultural education center.
The younger Fuchs said his father was always an advocate “for the little guy,” and he imagined his father was concerned about the subcontractors who haven’t gotten paid on the library project, due to the financial problems of the main contractor.
“He was into local politics big time, very involved. He always liked to be in on the story, he just liked knowing what his money was being used for,” his son said. “He was a very fair person and a very loving father.”
Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, whose district includes Rockingham, said she was sitting near Fuchs during the Rockingham meeting, and she said watching him as he was stricken and dying was very upsetting to herself and many people.
Partridge said she knew the Fuchses from political discussions, and said John Fuchs was a big supporter of single-payer health care and other progressive political issues.
“I came home and I cried,” said Partridge.