Real estate tycoon Tony Pomerleau dies

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Real estate tycoon and philanthropist Antonio Pomerleau has died.

The patriarch of the Pomerleau family passed away at the age of 100, his son, Ernie, announced Friday morning. The elder Pomerleau had been in recent poor health.

The jovial, sharp-eyed developer, known as Tony, built one of the largest personal fortunes in Vermont history, which he pegged at more than $100 million. He also gave away millions in philanthropic efforts, which also included an annual Christmas party that provided a free meal and presents for low-income Vermonters. Pomerleau recently provided funding for that holiday gathering through 2030.

Tony Pomerleau
Tony Pomerleau speaks at his 100th birthday party in September. Also shown on his son Ernie Pomerleu, Gov. Phil Scott and Karen Marshall, Chair of the Lake Champlain Sailing Center Board of Directors. Photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

Pomerleau’s name also adorns a number of buildings, including the Burlington Police Department headquarters, the Burlington Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA. Pomerleau was a longtime member of the Burlington Police Commission.

“Our dad often said that everything has an expiration date except him,” Ernie Pomerleau said. “He was so right because I know that together, our family and the Vermont community will carry forward his spirit and legacy. While every one of us may not accomplish as much and reach as many lives as he has, in this next century we can each be loving family members, caring neighbors and generous souls to shine in his example.”

Follett House Burlington
The Pomerleaus’ offices are in the historic Follett Building on College Street in Burlington. Wiki Commons photo

Pomerleau’s rags-to-riches success came from being an early developer of shopping malls. He and his son Ernie ruled over his real estate empire from an impressive, columned white building in Burlington that overlooked Lake Champlain a few blocks back from the waterfront. He made daily appearances at the office until only recently.

Pomerleau was born in Quebec and moved to Vermont when he was six months old.

When he was 3 years old, Pomerleau sufffered a tragic injury when he fell in a cellar hole and had to be confined with a brace for the next six years. In an interview in 2010, Pomerleau pointed to that accident as giving him determination which he said contributed to his later success.

“The doctor said I might live to 10 years old,” Pomerleau told the Burlington Free Press last year. “They’re all dead and I’m still alive. Whether you believe in miracles or not, I had one.”

Pomerleau is survived by his wife, Rita, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. In their 71-year marriage, they had 10 children, two sons and eight daughters. Two of those daughters predeceased their father.

Pomerleau’s niece, Marcelle, is married to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who called him “Uncle Tony.”

Leahy said Friday morning that he and Marcelle have been sharing memories about Pomerleau over the past few days.

“We think of his enormous philanthropy in Vermont, his caring about Vermont and people throughout Vermont society. We think of the good he has done for others, but in the end we think of a loving member of our family, and while not unexpected, it is a loss that will be felt by all of us over the generations,” the senior senator said.

“Perhaps so much is summed up in the memories Marcelle and I have of being at the baptism of his great-grandchild last year at the time of Tony’s birthday. A hundred years separated the two of them, but the love in Tony’s face was the same love we have seen for decades,” he added.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt, said it was hard to believe Pomerleau was gone.

“He was an indefatigable legend who improved the lives of countless Vermonters through his business and charity work. His “can do” attitude was infectious. His legacy of generosity and entrepreneurialism will live on but his presence in Vermont’s communities will be sorely missed,” Welch said.

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