Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Grand Lady of North Springfield passes at age 90

Long-time community activist and leader Jean Willard has died. In her prime, she was a strong influence in Springfield, voters electing her first to serve on the Selectboard and then later on, the Schoolboard. She was the leading advocate for the interests of North Springfield, where she resided for most of her life.

Jean died early Tuesday morning March 21 at the home of her daughter, Brenda Wells, surrounded by family members.

She was born March 11, 1927, in Jamaica, Vermont, the daughter of Robert C. Follett and Muriel (Grout) Follett, and grew up in Townshend, Vermont, Watertown, Connecticut and North Springfield, Vermont.

A graduate of Springfield High School, Jean studied journalism at Boston University and physical education at Castleton State College, as well as participating in numerous workshops and instructional programs. She earned an associate degree in human services at the Community College of Vermont.

She worked in various venues teaching yoga, dance and physical education, and wrote local features for the Eagle Times in the late sixties. But her life’s work was wife, mother, neighbor and community worker. She married Harold (Sunny) Willard on Jan. 11, 1947, beginning a 57-year partnership until his death in 2004. Harold was a machinist for J&L. While caring for their own family of two boys, two girls, and at times foster children, Jean and Harold were active neighbors in North Springfield. Several of her grown children’s childhood friends recall Jean as a “second mother." Jean and Harold enjoyed community theater, gardening, Good Sam events with their trailer, the fellowship of friends and especially dancing.

Jean was active in local organizations and government. She served for more than 25 years on the Springfield Board of Civil Authority including 19 years as a Justice of the Peace. And she served on the Springfield Select Board, 1987-1996, including terms as vice chair and chair. From 1994 to 1998 she served as Vermont District Representative on the Vermont-New Hampshire Solid Waste Executive Committee, serving as vice chair and chair. She served four years on the school board and was a founder of the Windsor County Select Board Association. She was honored for her court diversion work. In addition, Jean did extensive volunteer work for 4-H, Girl Scouts, the Red Cross and others.

Jean was dedicated to the North Springfield Baptist Church. She was a Sunday School teacher, youth director, camp director and member of the Christian Education Committee. Jean was especially proud of having created and nurtured the Interpretive Choir that incorporated dance into the church’s worship. She honored her late husband’s memory by completing her written history of the church, a goal the Willards had shared.

Thanksgiving 2016
Jean remained vital and energetic well into her eighties. Besides writing her church history, she dedicated herself to another goal she’d shared with Harold, the neighborhood volunteer effort to preserve the North Springfield School property as a youth recreation center. The young parents she led in the effort referred to her as “the Boss," and a government official with whom she dealt called her a “gentle pit bull." She was also a leader in stopping an intrusive biomass electrical generating plant in North Springfield. She continued her Bible studies and gardening, and greatly enjoyed her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Reflecting on her life, Jean was proudest of episodes when she stood up against injustice. As a little girl, she jumped from a stair landing to beat up a bully who was picking on a smaller child. As teenagers, she and her brother walked out of their dancing lesson when the teacher barred a girl of color from the class. In college, she spoke up to defend a Jewish girl from a bigoted house mother. More recently she led the successful effort to have the North Springfield Baptist Church welcome GLTB members.

She was predeceased by her husband, Harold. She is survived her brother, Robert C. Follette Jr. of Amherst, Massachusetts; and by her four children and their spouses, Steve and Peggy Willard of North Springfield, Richard Willard and Richard Nault of Greenfield, Massachusetts, Cynthia Metcalf and Sen. Dick McCormack of Bethel, Vermont and Brenda and Steve Wells of St. Johnsbury, Vermont; six grandchildren, Nathan Willard, Steve Willard, Alex Metcalf, Ben Metcalf, Emily Metcalf and Wayne Johnson; six great-grandchildren, Starr and Summer Willard, Elliana Cook, Charlotte and William Metcalf, and Riley and Lillianna Johnson.

Visiting hours are from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday, March 25, followed by services at 11 a.m. and a reception, all at the North Springfield Baptist Church. Reverend George Keeler Pastor will officiate. In lieu of flowers, donations in Jean’s memory can be sent to the North School Preservation Society, P.O. Box 107 North Springfield, VT 05150 (Website:; The North Springfield Baptist Church (The Willard Scholarship Fund), P.O. Box 23, North Springfield, VT 05150; or Valley Court Diversion Program, P.O. Box 474, White River Junction, VT 05501.

Arrangements are under the direction of the Davis Memorial Chapel in Springfield.

Jean, a life-long Republican, was the mother-in-law  of liberal Democrat Windsor County State Senator Dick McCormack, which must have made for some lively discussions around the dinner table at family gatherings.


  1. Jean was a very wonderful woman. ~Rest In Peace~

  2. How sad with Jean Willard died and glad got the chance to meet her at North Springfield Baptist Church. She was positive note, never negative, especially her medical condition. Rest in Peace Jean.

  3. Elysia Sanzotta3/22/17, 12:17 PM

    I was a member of her interpretive choir and have many fond memories of her. She will be lovingly remembered and greatly missed by many.

  4. She taught me to sew when I was 10 years old, a life long, useful skill! She will be sorely missed. My prayers and blessings for the family.
    Penny (Barrows) Lucas

  5. What a beautiful story of a lovely woman. Rest in Peace-


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