Former Vermont Sen. Robert Stafford, a staunch environmentalist and champion of education whose name is familiar to countless college students through a loan program named for him, has died. He was 93.
Stafford died Saturday at a nursing home in Rutland, Vt., said Neal Houston, his former chief of staff.
Stafford served two years as governor, 11 years in the House and 17 in the Senate before retiring in early 1989.
As the ranking Republican on the Senate's environment committee, Stafford repeatedly defended the Superfund program to clean up contaminated sites and shepherded bills to combat acid rain and automobile pollution.
In 1988, Congress saluted his dedication to education measures by renaming the Federal Guaranteed Student Loan program the Robert T. Stafford Student Loan program. The low-interest loans are known almost universally as Stafford loans to the millions who qualify for them each year.
According to the federal Education Department, about 14 million Stafford loans were given to postsecondary students this year.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, described Stafford as a mentor who touched the lives of millions through his leadership. "And he gave the nation a lifelong lesson in civility and decency, in the finest tradition of his beloved Vermont," Leahy said in a news release.
Stafford, who once considered himself conservative, even hawkish, wasn't shy about bucking presidents of his own party. He led a successful effort to override President Reagan's veto of amendments that strengthened the Clean Water Act and tangled with industry when he thought it was thwarting efforts to clean the environment.
"If you ever want a piece of paper saying you are a certified [SOB], come to me," a car industry executive once told him, according to a 1989 story in the Boston Globe.
Born Aug. 8, 1913, Stafford earned a bachelor's degree from Middlebury College in 1935 and a law degree from Boston University in 1938.
Stafford served in the Navy during World War II and after the war practiced law in Rutland. He was elected county state's attorney before leaving to serve two years in Korea.
After his return, Stafford landed a job as a deputy state attorney general and then in 1954 won his first statewide race, for attorney general. He also served as lieutenant governor, then won the 1958 election for governor.
Two years later he won his first term in Congress; he continued to win reelection until he was appointed to the Senate in 1971 after the death of Sen. Winston Prouty. Stafford won the special election later that year to serve the five years remaining in Prouty's term and then remained in the Senate until he retired.
Stafford is survived by his wife, Helen, and their four daughters. A public memorial is planned for sometime in January.