BELLOWS FALLS -- Russell O. Capron, a long-serving member of various local boards, died of pancreatic cancer at Springfield Hospital early Tuesday morning. He was 70.
Capron was a sitting member of the Bellows Falls Union High School Board of Directors and served as a representative from Rockingham. Born in February 1943, he served 15 years of his life on school boards, including those at the Rockingham and state levels. He also had been a member of the FACT TV board and was the state chairman of the Ross Perot Campaign in the 1990s.
He is survived by his wife, Jane (St. Lawrence) Capron, as well as two daughters, three grandchildren, one sister, four nieces and several in-laws.
Friends and family members say they will remember Capron as a hard-nosed negotiator with a soft side, even after he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer in late October.
"He was just a kind and loving person to me. He did anything I wanted," Jane Capron said. "Everybody thought he was rough and gruff but he was so kind."
Jane told the Reformer she met her husband in 1984 and the two were together 22 years before tying the knot in Portland, Ore., where one of Russ' daughters lives, in January 2006. She said Capron decided when he retired to dedicate his energy to giving back to his community. Jane said he loved doing things for other people and wanted every child to get an education, hence his work on various school boards. But Jane said that more than anything, Capron was devoted to his three grandchildren, whom he flew to visit every six weeks.
Capron's older sister, Shirley, said her brother had a tough personality, but always kept his sense of humor.
"He certainly was a character and a half. I think the way I viewed him was, you either loved him or you hated him. There was no in-between, because he told it like it was," she told the Reformer on Wednesday. "But he had another side to him. He was very giving and unmaterialistic. He lived like a monk and it wasn't until he got married that he finally got some real furniture in his house."
Shirley said her brother was always physically active, cycling 5,000 to 7,000 miles on his 10-speed bicycle every summer and walking about eight miles each day.
"His legs looked like tree trunks and sometimes women would sneak up behind him and try to pinch his legs and he would turn around and say, 'If I did that to you, I'd be in jail,'" she said, laughing.
BFUHS Chairman David Clark worked with Capron for several years and said he was always impressed with his abilities as a board member. He said Capron had a fantastic grasp on finances and always had accurate budget numbers for his fellow board members.
"Russ was a great guy to work with," he said. "He was great with what he would call ‘the numbers.' He could predict with a great deal of accuracy what the tax impact would be in each of the four towns (Rockingham, Westminster Athens and Grafton)."
Clark also told the Reformer what he called "a Russ Capron anecdote."
The BFUHS Board of Directors convened in the high school's library on Wednesday, Dec. 18, for what was primarily a budget meeting. However, there was also a brief special meeting to see if members would approve a member-to-member agreement with Compass School, which would allow two students from the non-profit school to play basketball for BFUHS.
Clark said there were five board members at the table and a sixth one was needed to take action on the motion to adopt the agreement. He explained he was forced to use his cell phone to call Capron, who was "on his sick bed," and have the ailing board member vote "Aye" on the motion via speakerphone. The motion then passed.
"It's a Russ story because the guy was pretty much on death's doorstep, but he came through for the school one more time. We wouldn't have gotten (the agreement) that night if it wasn't for Russ," Clark said.
The agreement permits two students at Compass School, which caters to children in grades 7 through 12 and has no basketball program, to play basketball for the Terriers this season. Compass School is a short walk from BFUHS.
Clark said a sitting member of the school board is replaced by an appointment from the Rockingham Selectboard, which gets recommendations from the school board.
There will be calling hours from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Fenton & Hennessey Funeral Home in Bellows Falls. A funeral mass will be celebrated at 1 p.m. on Saturday at St. Peters Church in North Walpole, N.H. A burial at St. Peters Cemetery will follow.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Rockingham Free Public Library, Attn: Sam, Children's Library Programs, 65 Westminster St., Bellows Falls, VT, 05101, or to the Bellows Falls Alumni Association, c/o Lori McGinnis, 10 Morgan St., Bellows Falls, VT, 05101.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.