December 28, 2006
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Vergennes Alderman Michael Sullivan, who served as the first superintendent of the Vergennes-Panton Water District for 34 years, died of an apparent heart attack at his Monkton Road home on Christmas Eve.
Sullivan, 61, was known as a leader and past Commander of the Vergennes American Legion Post 14, a Past Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus, an architect of the effort to bring safe water to the city in the early 1970s, a conservationist, and as an outspoken city council member who was pondering a run for mayor in March.
Despite his often contrary and at times long-winded political opinions, Vergennes Mayor April Jin said Sullivan’s underlying good-heartedness made him popular on the city council as well as in the Vergennes area.
“He could be very argumentative, and he loved to talk, but you really couldn’t help liking him because I think he always meant well,” Jin said. “He was what-you-see-is-what-you-get.”
Sullivan, a 1963 Vergennes Union High School graduate who studied at the University of Vermont, was an honor graduate of the U.S. Water and Sewerage Technical School in Neosho, Mo., before serving a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy Seabees in Vietnam. (See Obituary, Page 6A.)
After returning from overseas, Sullivan was hired as the water district superintendent in 1971, when the Lake Champlain water plant was being built to replace the city’s former reservoir in Bristol. He remained in that job until 2005, and consulted there regularly through this year.
Longtime water district commissioner John Emerson IV said Sullivan combined the technical knowledge needed to craft potable water with the practical ability to keep the plant and water system up and running. Emerson noted that the system’s water quality always bettered Environmental Protection Agency standards.
“His knowledge of the facility and his ability to make water were … great assets,” Emerson said. “He was a pretty compassionate person, so I’m going to miss that part of him being around, too.”
Emerson said Sullivan also made friends among fellow outdoorsmen, Legion members here and elsewhere, and other water system operators, including the members of the Northeast Rural Water Association, a group of which he was past president.
“He had a great network of people,” Emerson said. “He was just very well-respected.”
Jin said Sullivan’s loss will be felt at city hall and throughout the area.
“I’m sure he will be sorely missed on the council, and I was quite shocked and saddened to hear of his death,” Jin said. “We may disagree, but I think deep down we all care about each other in the long run. It’s a small community. One person could touch a lot of people.”