By Nathan Terry
Family members, politicians and friends gathered at the chapel of St. Michael the Archangel on Tuesday Feb. 13 for the funeral service of local businessman and philanthropist Tony Pomerleau, who died on Feb. 8 at the age of 100.
With hundreds of mourners in attendance and an opening procession including a Burlington police honor guard, the service included moments of laughter and quiet reflection on the long life lived by a man who is survived by eight children, 13 grandchildren, and his wife of 71 years, Rita Pomerleau.
“It’s remarkable how many lives he touched through is giving and philanthropy. I like to compare his life to the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s amazing to think of how different people’s lives would have been without him,” Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said in the Ross Sports Center during the reception following the funeral. “He never did retire. I think that’s because he never did think of it as work. It was just Antonio being Tony.”
Across from the main campus sits Pomerleau Alumni Center. In 2010, St. Michael’s named the building after Pomerleau when he donated $1 million for a new alumni building.
Pomerleau once ran against current Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a campaign for mayor of Burlington in 1980. After losing to Sanders, Pomerleau became a supporter of the newly minted mayor.
A long time advocate for the Burlington police force, Pomerleau was lauded by Burlington Police chief Brandon del Pozo during a speech at the reception. Del Pozo joked “I thought that Vermonters walked around barefoot until Tony Pomerleau sold them shoes…that cop cars were go-karts until Tony bought them new cars.”
Although he was not born to a wealthy family, Pomerleau made great strides in the real estate market. He bought his first grocery store back in the 1940s, and eventually owned and developed several shopping centers throughout Vermont by the 1960s. Pomerleau built shopping centers and built parking lots in front of his businesses so people would have easier access to his supermarkets. He later invested in downtown Burlington buildings on Church Street.
Throughout his career, Pomerleau used the strategy of buying land in valuable locations, making a deal with a supermarket tenant, and then building the infrastructure. In doing so, Pomerleau built up his wealth considerably, and his net worth soared to over an estimated $100 million. A philanthropist, Pomerleau donated $1 million to the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington in 2014 and hosted an annual holiday party that would send gifts to low income children.
When reflecting on his late father’s longevity and commitment to St. Michael’s, Ernie Pomerleau ’69 said at the reception. “He lived through a lot of presidents here and it’s been a continuum — so to have him have a celebration here on campus of his funeral Mass, and this reception – it couldn’t be better.”
Among those in attendance of Pomerleau’s funeral service were Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is married to Pomerleau’s niece, Rep. Peter Welch, Gov. Phil Scott and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.