MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — F. Ray Keyser Jr., the former Republican governor of Vermont whose 1962 defeat by a Democrat is seen as a turning point in the state’s transition from one of the most conservative in the country to one of the most liberal, has died. He was 88.
Keyser died Saturday at his daughter’s home in Brandon, said Dennis Cilley, director of the Boardway & Cilley Funeral Home. Cilley said Sunday that he didn’t know Keyser’s cause of death.
Keyser served three terms in the state House, including two years as speaker, before becoming Vermont’s youngest governor at 34.
“He was a boy wonder,” former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas said.
Keyser was elected governor in 1960 and served just one term. He took office just as cracks began to appear in generations of dominance in state governance by a handful of Republican political families and as Vermont’s Democratic Party began to rouse itself from a century of near-political irrelevance.
Keyser’s 1962 defeat by Democrat Phil Hoff ended 109 years of Republican control of the Vermont governor’s office. It also was the last time an incumbent governor was ousted in the general election.
Douglas said Keyser also enjoyed the distinction of being the first Vermont governor still living 50 years after his election. Hoff, Keyser’s successor, was the second.
“Vermont has lost a faithful public servant who showed his love for this state and its people through his years of service,” Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement Sunday. “I know I join all Vermonters in being thankful for Governor Keyser’s dedication to Vermont.”
Keyser was born in Chelsea on Aug. 17, 1927. His father, F. Ray Keyser, served in the Legislature in the 1930s before becoming a Supreme Court justice. The elder Keyser heard cases until he was 90 and died in 2001 at 102.
Former Gov. Keyser served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was a graduate of Tufts University and the Boston University School of Law.
During his two years leading Vermont, Keyser initiated a statewide planning program and established the Vermont Industrial Building Authority. Also during his administration, Vermont made extensive investment in its park system, and the state budget was balanced without assessing new taxes.
But Keyser’s time as governor was unpopular.
Hoff eked out a narrow victory in the 1962 election with the help of The Vermont Independent Party, a group of anti-Keyser Republicans.
After leaving office, Keyser served on the boards of several corporations, including a time as chairman of the Central Vermont Public Service Corp. until its merger with Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s largest electric utility.
He also is a past president of the Vermont Golf Association.
“Ray was quite passionate about the need for more courses,” Douglas said.
Shumlin ordered that flags around the state be flown at half-staff in Keyser’s honor. The flag tribute begins at sunrise Monday and will continue until sunset March 16.
A memorial service is planned for the spring in Chelsea, Cilley said.