Selectboard member, ‘community builder’ McCarren has died

Selectboard member, philanthropist and avid volunteer, Louise McCarren has died. She was found at her home on Popple Dungeon Road on Friday morning, Feb. 16.

The news of her passing has rocked Charlotte. The Charlotte Selectboard hastily planned a special board meeting on Tuesday evening that came after press time.

The only item on the agenda for that meeting was reflection on McCarren and her service to the community. And her service to the community was legendary.

In conversations with residents, many recalled her generosity.

In a post on social media, fellow selectboard member Lewis Mudge said McCarren was “beloved for her service, energy and sense of humor.”

Courtesy photo
Louise McCarren stands on the shore after a day of paddling and exploring on a multi-generational family camping trip in September 2019 on Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks.
Courtesy photo
Louise McCarren stands on the shore after a day of paddling and exploring on a multi-generational family camping trip in September 2019 on Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks.

McCarren was running for re-election to her seat on the selectboard against challenger Natalie Kanner. Although McCarren’s name will still be on the ballot because they have already been printed, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Kanner will assume that seat.

Meredith Moses, who lived next door to McCarren and her late husband Ed Amidon for 19 years, said she was “a real community builder” and “egalitarian and gutsy.”

Moses talked about how McCarren was always helping neighbors in need by bringing them food or feeding farm animals when nearby farmers were ill.

“She was always checking on the elderly,” Moses added.

Lori York, the Charlotte Senior Center director, said McCarren was one of the center’s biggest advocates, stopping by daily.

“She was always looking for opportunities to help out, whether it be delivering an Age Well meal to one of our participants who was housebound, providing food for a Monday lunch or donating scholarship funds to make sure that those who needed it the most were taken care of,” York said. “Louise cared deeply, and her first priority was always about how she could help others. She touched many lives and her passing leaves a hole in our community.”

Several times McCarren bought half a cow from farmers, often ones who were going through hard times, which she donated to the Charlotte Food Shelf.

Her son Willy Amidon said that years ago, before his mother got involved with the Charlotte Food Shelf, she would cook muffins every Sunday to take to the food shelf in Burlington.

“One of the things everyone will tell you about is her generosity,” Amidon said.

He talked about how on Christmas Eve this year, as they were leaving the hospital after visiting his father who was ill, his mother saw a woman crying in the lobby. Louise McCarren went over to comfort her and found out the woman’s child had just had a procedure. She didn’t have any way to get home in time for Christmas. His mother gave the woman several hundred dollars, so she could get a cab to Plattsburgh.

Ed Amidon died the day after Christmas.

McCarren was born in San Mateo, Calif., in 1947. After getting her bachelor’s from U.C. Berkeley, she graduated from the UCLA School of Law in 1972.

She moved to Vermont shortly thereafter with her first husband, Peter McCarren, and began practicing law. After getting a divorce, she published a book on how women could get divorced in the Green Mountain State.

In the late 1970s, she married Ed Amidon, who she met outside a courtroom where he was judge. They built their house in Charlotte in 1979, shortly after the birth of their son Willy Amidon.

“She was always a contributor,” Willy Amidon said. “She was always looking for how she could help.”

Moses said that when McCarren gave people food, it was always food she had bought locally, often from one of Charlotte’s farms.

Thus, many of McCarren’s good deeds were at least doubled in benefiting the community.

McCarren was an athlete, running in many marathons, including Burlington, New York and Boston. She participated in the Ironman World Championship, an annual triathlon in Hawaii that is generally considered to be in the top five toughest in the world.

“Her favorite was the Sugarbush Triathlon. She did it every year for about 20 years,” Amidon said.

A 2003 article in Vermont Sport, celebrating the 25th Sugarbush Triathalon, mentions McCarren as one of a group of 10 outstanding athletes who had competed in the event over the years. This may be the world’s only “triathlon” that involves four legs — a 5-mile run, 6-mile paddle, 8 miles of cycling and 5-kilometers of cross-country skiing at Sugarbush Resort.

Amidon said his mother was “not an idle person.”

In 1981, she became chairman of the Vermont Public Service Board, an agency in the state’s executive branch responsible for representing the public interest in energy, telecommunications, water and wastewater utility issues.

In a 1985 interview with Town Meeting TV, McCarren said before taking this job she had been an advocate for those with issues with state utilities. The difference between her previous position and being chair of the public service board, she said, was that an advocate can propose views that might be extreme but that can be helpful in forcing government to examine issues that might go ignored. However, as chair, she was charged with working for positions that incorporated various sides of an issue.

That responsibility is a good description of Louise McCarren herself, a person who worked for compromises that worked for all sides.

Vermont Biz Magazine noted in an article published shortly after she was named chair of Campaign for Vermont, a nonprofit that advocates public policy changes to improve Vermont’s economy, her numerous leadership positions throughout her career, including chair of the Vermont Public Service Board, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service and Vermont state president for Verizon.

Willy Amidon said his mother’s last job was as CEO of the Western Electric Coordinating Council. It manages the power grid for the Western U.S. For about seven years she had a home in Salt Lake City, commuting back and forth to Charlotte.

When his mother retired, she began to focus on Charlotte and threw herself into two other passions — cooking and gardening.

“She was a great cook who loved to cook,” Amidon said.

Whenever town events were discussed at selectboard meetings, she would volunteer to bring cookies.

Some of Amidon’s fondest memories are of wilderness paddling trips his family took in the Canadian Arctic when he was a teenager and into his 20s.

Amidon, who is an associate professor of earth and climate sciences, said, in his early years of teaching at Middlebury College, he took working trips into a remote area in Argentina, and his mother came down for a couple of those trips.

“We would work for the whole day, and she would have steak and muffins,” Amidon said.

She became known as a legendary camping cook. He said, “She perfected the art of fresh bread in the wilderness.”

McCarren was also known for her green thumb. Amidon said she took the master gardener course, which she didn’t really need because she was already an accomplished gardener.

“She had unbelievable, 100-yard-long beds, choke full of peonies and tulips,” he said. “She was a nut for gardening and was always ordering bulbs.”

Moses said, when her peonies were in bloom, McCarren would have a party she called the Peony Parade, and in the fall, she would have a pumpkin party where she handed out seeds and party prizes.

Despite all of McCarren’s achievements, his mother was essentially a humble person, Amidon said. “I think she would probably honestly dread being the subject of a front-page article about her death, but you know, she can handle it.”

She can probably handle it like she handled so many things during a life built around a plethora of professional and personal interests.