- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2006

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Former Sen. Robert T. Stafford, a staunch environmentalist and champion of education whose name is familiar to countless college students through a loan program named for him, died yesterday. He was 93.

Mr. Stafford was surrounded by family at a Rutland nursing home when he died at 9:30 a.m., said Neal Houston, his former chief of staff.

Mr. Stafford served two years as governor, 11 years in the House and 17 in the Senate before retiring in early 1989.

As ranking Republican on the Senate’s environment committee, Mr. Stafford repeatedly defended the Superfund program to clean up contaminated sites and shepherded bills combating acid rain and automobile pollution.

In 1988, Congress saluted his dedication to education measures, renaming the Federal Guaranteed Student Loan program the Robert T. Stafford Student Loan program. The low-interest loans are now known almost universally as Stafford loans to the millions who qualify for them each year.

According to the federal Education Department, about 14 million Stafford loans were given to postsecondary students in 2006.

“From the higher-education finance program that now bears his name or his advocacy for clean air and water, Americans will continue to benefit greatly from his legacy of success,” Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, said in ordering state flags flown at half-staff.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, described Mr. Stafford as a mentor who touched the lives of millions through his leadership. “And he gave the nation a lifelong lesson in civility and decency, in the finest tradition of his beloved Vermont,” Mr. Leahy said.

Mr. Stafford, who once considered himself conservative, even hawkish, wasn’t shy about bucking presidents of his own party. He led a successful effort to override President Reagan’s veto of amendments that strengthened the Clean Water Act and tangled with industry when he believed it was thwarting efforts to clean the environment.

Born Aug. 8, 1913, Mr. Stafford got a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in 1935 and a law degree from Boston University in 1938. Education became a lifetime pursuit. In his official biography, he listed state degrees from the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College and Norwich University, the last one awarded in 1970.

Mr. Stafford served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Upon his return, he landed a job as a state deputy attorney general and then in 1954 won his first statewide race, for attorney general

But he lasted only two years before he was persuaded by then-Lt. Gov. Consuelo Bailey to run for lieutenant governor. He held that office for two years, then won the 1958 election for governor.

Two years later, he won his first term in Congress and continued to win re-election until he was appointed to the Senate in 1971 upon the death of Sen. Winston Prouty. Mr. Stafford won the special election later that year to serve the five years remaining in Mr. Prouty’s term and remained in the Senate until his retirement.

Mr. Stafford is survived by his wife, Helen, and their four daughters. Mr. Houston said a private family service was being arranged. A larger public memorial would be held in January, he said.

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