March 12, 1922-May 29, 2009
By Sharon Lakey
“Sev and I were in Florida, retired in a nice, clean development. Every morning, we would sit at our breakfast table and watch the ambulance go by–in for someone and out with someone. We looked at each other and knew this wasn’t for us. That’s when we decided to come back to Danville and give the time we had left to our own community.”
That’s how I remember Marion’s story about how she and her husband Paul–who she often referred to as “Sev”–felt about retirement. We were on our way back from a library meeting in Montpelier, chatting in the car. She was dressed in her usual attire—a skirted dark suit, white blouse and heels. Not a hair out of place. When I dropped her at the library, she took her powder blue file box from the back seat, and we said goodbye.
That’s the most intimate conversation I ever had with Marion. Her veneer could be intimidating, but under that impeccable surface lived a thinker and a doer, and that conversation helped me understand why this woman and her husband were at the epicenter of all things Danville.
Marion was the first of five children born to Howard and Alice Calkins: Marion, Roy (Deke), Paul, Leland (Gus), Carmen and Zana. “Marion was A+, you know,” points out her brother Deke, “I was down the alphabet some.” He also went on to explain that while Marion was hitting the books, he was doing the chores, something he says he didn’t mind doing.
Her penchant for neatness probably came from her mother, Alice. The family still tells of their mother’s memorable trip to school to fetch daughter Zana, who had failed to make her bed! Carmen laughs, telling a story about her sister Marion’s neatness. “She was watching me as a baby, and I dirtied a diaper. Horrified, she plunked me into a pillowcase to avoid the mess but waited for my brother Paul to come home and change me.”
True to her studious nature, Marion was named the Salutatorian of her class in 1940. Classmates and staff were already in awe of her organization and ability to keep books. From the yearbook Danville Hi-Ways classmate Nathan Morrill wrote in the class gifts: “To Marion Calkins I present this law book, hoping it will give her the exact points she can prove her arguments by.” Classmate Frances Roberts wrote in the class will: “To the next School Comptroller, we will Marion Calkins’ ability to keep books—alone!” Principal Manning added: “All class treasurers will please meet Marion Calkins after school so she can check up on your bank books.”
And in class epitaphs:
Here we see,
When she got a D.”
Classmate Donald Douse, in the same yearbook, wrote an interesting essay that questioned our country’s ability to remain neutral in the European war. Just over a year later, after Marion graduated from Champlain College, it was no longer a question, and her life would take a new direction.
Her boyfriend at the time, Paul Sevigny, had joined the Air Force and was determined to fly. In his memoir, he writes, “In May, 1943, I wound up back at Sheppard Field, Texas, to learn how to assemble the new gliders we would get overseas in five crates. While there, my girlfriend from high school days asked her parents if she could come to Texas to see me. Her dad said, ‘Sure, go ahead, but don’t marry that little Frenchman. He will never amount to a tinker’s damn.’ Well, she came down and we got married the day she arrived.”
That was the beginning of Marion’s life as a military spouse, who traveled the world with Paul throughout his 24-year career. Sister Zana explains, “She was an involved military wife. While Paul was away, she never complained, and she always worked.” That life had its high points, especially in the 50’s when Paul got into racecar driving.
From Paul’s memoir, he writes of the couple’s trip to Los Angeles, “We [he and Marion] went to the sales place and saw this beautiful XK-120 M Jaguar, bright red, and it had been clocked at 142 miles per hour at a trial in Belgium. Well, we…drove out with this Jaguar. When we got to the race …we ended up in the pit area where all the race drivers were…We had a ball there with many people looking over our new Jaguar. One movie star, Paul Newman, who was racing said, “Hey, take it around a few laps!”
Two of Marion’s siblings credit the globetrotting couple as instrumental in their own careers. Zana, the youngest said, “They were my mentors. One trip back home, they took my friend and me to Boston to see the Ice Follies. It was my first trip to Boston. And as I neared graduation, they convinced my parents that I needed to go to college. After college, they convinced them I needed my masters.” She did both, with an undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont and a graduate degree from the University of Michigan in the field of special education. Carmen credits Paul and Marion with encouraging her to join the US Air Force, where she worked as a nurse.
Paul and Marion were thinking about a future in Danville when Paul wrote: “In 1954, I was promoted to captain and my wife and I had a chance to purchase Diamond Hill Cabins in our hometown of Danville, Vermont. [We] drove the Jaguar back to Vermont and purchased the 14 acres and 12 cabins. It was a summer business, so we planned on Marion running the business in the summer and join me in the winter.”
The couple continued to manage the cabins for a few years after Paul’s military retirement. He left the Air Force with a rank of major. After their short attempt at full retirement in Florida, they returned to Danville with their newfound goal of “community” before them. Marion went to work for Bruce Corrette at his accounting firm, where she remained for 40 years. During off-hours, Marion joined Paul in their dedication to community. As her good friend and co-worker Irene Trudholme said, “I never saw Marion and Paul socially, because they were so civic-minded. I think that defined their life together.”
One cohort in her activities was Steve Cobb, who owns and runs the Danville Restaurant and Inn. He called his relationship them as a “close friendship,” one they developed over 30 years. Paul and Marion became two of his best customers. Stories of their selfless gifting abound, and Steve shares this one. As chair of the building committee for the Danville Methodist Church, she would ask him yearly to be thinking about something the Church really needed. “When we were working on our handicapped accessibility remodel, Marion ordered a dozen donuts from me. When Paul came to pick up the donuts, he handed me a check for $2,000, written to the Church. They did things like that,” said Steve.
Marion offered him advice, too, in his own role as community volunteer. When he was President of the Pope Library, she told him, “’Always choose your helpers by what they can offer either physically or financially.’ It’s a piece of advice I’ve often thought about.”
The “neat thing” never left her, either. Steve remembers Marion showing up on a Sunday for a library cleaning in a blue blazer, matching pants, white-collared shirt, heels, and yellow rubber gloves. Former Town Clerk, Ginny Morse, remembers going on a cemetery clean up with her in a similar outfit, and Carmen and her daughter, Chelle, still laugh about Marion gardening in pantyhose and pumps.
This joy of tidiness is best described in Marion’s own words. Carmen shared the story of how Marion reacted when she showed her older sister how she had fixed up a basement room for her young daughter. When she beheld Carmen’s handiwork, Marion stopped mid-stair and exclaimed, ‘Oh, Neato!’”
“Neatness was one of her bugaboos, alright,” said Ginny. “She would order a dozen donuts and pound of coffee from Steve for the town garage crew every once in a while. It gave her an excuse to down there to see if everything was in order. She didn’t like to see a lot of spare parts lying around. Marion took a lot of pride in the Town and wanted it to be shipshape.”
As a Town Selectman for 18 years (Selectman being the designation she preferred) Ginny said, “She was a peacekeeper, but very firm. If she had an issue, she held to her position– very calm, very determined and very steely. She was one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met. Danville is going to miss her in so many ways.”
In 1993, Marion and Paul celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Danville Restaurant and Inn. It was a joyous occasion for the couple, and Paul lived another seven years before passing away in 2000. After his death, Marion continued in her service to the community and her job. According to family members, she and Paul had decided that upon their deaths their legacy of community service would continue. Always well prepared, Marion made plans that the estate would be divided up and given to community organizations in percentages that she and Paul had previously identified.
Over the last several years, Marion’s health began to deteriorate, though she was able to work through it. Her eyesight was difficult and there was a circulation problem in one of her legs. A stint, put in to improve circulation, brought on a staph infection that complicated her recovery. Her doctors told her an amputation was a necessity.
Though she had fought long, she made a decision at that time that “enough was enough,” said Zana, who was honored to spend the last week by her side. “She never wavered in her decision. Dartmouth Hitchcock was outstanding in meeting her request to be kept as comfortable as possible. There was no fear of death on her part, no delusions. She and Sev had talked this over. She said it was her time to go, and she was ready to rejoin him. Whenever Marion set a goal, she went for it.” She died with dignity on May 29, 2009.
Marion’s eulogy was read by her niece, Marion E. McHugh, Zana’s daughter from Raleigh, NC:
“Being her namesake has come with responsibility, and I am honored to rise to the occasion. My prayer is that the legacy of Marion E. Sevigny transcends time. Here is what I believe MARION stands for:
M is for Mighty in spirit and work—no one can deny that Marion was a hard worker.
A is for Always generous and kind—with her possessions and time.
R is for Right choices—doing the right thing. The things we learned when we were young still apply when we are old.
I is for Integrity and accountability.
O is for Oath—she was a woman of her word.
N is for Negotiator of peace—Jesus said on a hill long ago…blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons and daughters of God (Matthew 5:9).
On this day, we have the peace of God that passes all understanding. We love you Marion E. Sevigny!”
This article first published in the North Star Monthy, July, 2009
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