I ran into Morristown’s first health officer, a longtime town lister, a former justice of the peace, and the town historian the other day.
It was Francis Favreau.
Favreau, 83, has just wrapped up four and a half decades of public service, on top of working at his day job at Copley Hospital for 43 years.
His last day of work for the Morristown town government — he’s been helping out at the town clerk’s office for the last few years — was Thursday, Jan. 11, although he didn’t actually get much work done, not with the steady stream of well-wishers and town staff members saying thanks to Favreau, plus all the hoopla at the retirement ceremony.
The smiles and tears of the people trooping in to honor Favreau were a good indication of what he’s meant to Morristown.
“What an asset to this town,” said Dave Yacovone, a longtime resident who’s a state legislator. The pair used to work at Copley Hospital together. Yacovone is also a former landlord, and when Favreau was the town health officer, they didn’t always see eye to eye. But that doesn’t stop Yacovone from speaking about Favreau in glowing terms.
“I enjoy his company so much,” Yacovone said. “He’s got a great sense of humor. I will miss him greatly as a friend.”
“If I could learn half of what you’ve forgotten, I’d be doing good,” Kevin Newton, who hopes to fill Favreau’s shoes as the de facto town historian, told his mentor last Thursday.
“He’s kind and generous and a one-of-a-kind guy,” said Tracy Haerther, director of the Noyes House Museum.
Favreau “can’t be replaced and will truly be missed by the whole community,” said Sara Haskins, Morristown’s town clerk.
“He’s a great guy and he’ll be sorely missed by the town and people around here,” said Gary Nolan, Morristown’s other state representative. “He’d always go out of his way to help you. They don’t come much better than Francis Favreau.”
“I’m gonna miss you,” select board member Eric Dodge told Favreau at the retirement ceremony as the two shared a hug.
Favreau will be moving to Middlebury soon to live with his son, and he’ll take with him a resolution passed by the Vermont Legislature, honoring him for his service.
“We want to thank you for all you’ve done,” select board chair Bob Beeman said as he presented the resolution on behalf of Nolan and Yacovone. Haskins informed him that a special brick engraved “In honor of Francis Favreau” has been installed where he spent his other career, Copley Hospital.
Beeman also gave Favreau a gift certificate to one of his favorite local eateries and watering holes, Lost Nation Brewery.
“We hope it gets you to come back and see us,” Beeman said.
“I’ll be back,” Favreau said with smile.
A Hyde Park boy
He might be one of the most well-known, best-liked people in Morristown, but Favreau actually grew up in Hyde Park, first on the family farm and then in the village. He graduated from Lamoille Central Academy in 1952 and enlisted in the Navy, where he served until 1957 as a clerk aboard an aircraft carrier and at a base in Charleston, S.C.
After the service, he went to college in Minneapolis to become a medical technologist and came back to Lamoille County to work in the lab at Copley Hospital.
He met his wife, Agnes, soon after and they married in 1959. The couple moved to Morrisville in 1962 so their kids — they’d eventually have four — “could walk to school and I could walk to work.”
“I’ve been here ever since,” Favreau said. He was promoted to a management position at Copley Hospital in 1985 and retired in 2000, but he’d become a public servant long before that. He was appointed Morristown’s first health officer in the early 1970s.
“Joe Trombley, he was on the select board,” Favreau said, and Trombley wanted Favreau to be the health officer. “He pestered me until I said yes. Basically, that’s the only reason I got into it.”
There was plenty to do once Favreau took the job. One of his main duties was inspecting new septic systems to make sure they met newly adopted town standards, and he helped get Morrisville’s municipal sewage-treatment system going in 1973.
He also fought an uphill battle for better safety regulations in rental housing.
“Back then, there were no written standards for rental housing,” Favreau said. So, he and other town staff members pushed the state health department to create and enforce those regulations. Morristown was one of the first communities in Vermont to adopt safer rental housing regulations, and that “helped lead to statewide rental housing regulations” in the mid-1970s.
By 1991, Favreau decided he’d had enough of being the health officer. He was still a justice of the peace, though, and when he retired from Copley Hospital in 2000, he decided to run for office as a town lister.
“Basically, it was something to keep me busy for a while,” Favreau said. He served as a lister until a few years ago, and has spent the time since then helping out around the town clerk’s office every morning or assisting Morristown planning and zoning director Todd Thomas with different projects or research.
Favreau’s wife, Agnes, kept busy as well, with a long and distinguished teaching career in Lamoille County. She taught at a one-room schoolhouse in Fletcher, then in Hyde Park. After a break to raise their children, Agnes returned to teach and volunteer at Morristown Elementary School, Peoples Academy and Bishop John A. Marshall School. She died in 2014.
‘A wealth of history’
Favreau may be best known as Morristown’s historian.
“Francis has a wealth of history and knowledge of the town of Morristown like no other,” Haskins said. If there’s a question about the town’s history, “Francis will have the answer.”
Favreau didn’t take up history until after he began working at Copley Hospital. The hospital’s namesake, Alexander Hamilton Copley, was oft discussed, but no one seemed to know much about the Morristown benefactor and philanthropist whose name also graces the local golf club and high school gym. So, Favreau went digging.
He began with a search for Copley’s gravestone, which required an exhaustive search of the local cemeteries.
“I couldn’t find his stone” at first, Favreau said. He eventually found it on the back of the gravestone for Copley’s wife. Favreau continued his research, which turned into a book, “Copley, A Hospital in Morristown.”
Then he turned to town history, looking through old newspapers and interviewing elderly citizens about their memories.
“It was just a thing I got into, a form of relaxation from the work I was doing on a daily basis at the hospital,” Favreau said.
He has since written or co-authored a pile of books on local history, including “More About Morristown” and “Some Things You Maybe Didn’t Know About Morrisville.” Each book runs hundreds of pages, and a friend’s extensive collection of historic photos helped Favreau pair both words and images.
He regularly drew packed audiences at Noyes House Museum and Morristown Centennial Library when he delivered talks about local history.
He’s been working with Hyde Park town librarian Amy Olsen for the past few years to chronicle the history of that community, and has already written a handful of books about Hyde Park.
He’s never sought much recognition, or profit, for his work.
“I never sold a one of them,” Favreau said about his books. He’s just given them all away.
“He feels it’s really important that all that information is shared,” Olsen said. “He doesn’t want it hidden. He wants people to have this stuff,” and she plans to carry on that tradition for him.
Favreau has done so much for his old hometown that Hyde Park’s 2017 Spirit of the Community award was dedicated to him.
“Just for all the help he’s given us and the resources he’s made available to us,” Olsen said.
She won’t be on her own as Hyde Park’s historian; she expects a steady string of emails to and from Middlebury.
“I’m glad I can stay in touch with him via email,” Olsen said. “He’s such a valuable resource for our community.”
Favreau is also passing everything he’s compiled and worked on about Morristown to Newton, “so he can continue this work, if he wants to.”
Haerther’s fondest Francis memory involves how he can turn town history into stories.
In one talk, he told about the cider parties that used to be held in the area, when everyone would bring their own homebrew for others to enjoy.
“He told this story about one person who would always go to the parties but never bring cider to contribute,” Haerther said. So, before one party, Favreau’s dad had him sneak over to that person’s house and filch all the cider from the basement.
“That’s my favorite story; he’s always entertaining,” she said.
Favreau has left all his research to the Noyes House Museum, in addition to sharing it with Newton, so his presence will be felt for years to come.
“He’s so kind, considerate and helpful,” Haerther said.
“A lot of people are having a hard time imagining how this town is going to function without him,” Thomas said. “I’m going to miss him terribly.”
“It’s been great living here in Morrisville,” Favreau said. He’s not sure what his schedule will look like in Middlebury, but he’s pretty sure history will be involved.
“My son knows the history buffs there,” Favreau laughed.