Former state rep Bernie Juskiewicz dies of coronavirus

Rep. Bernie Juskiewicz, right, alongside fellow House Education Committee member Rep. Larry Cupoli. Photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

Legislators and state officials are mourning former state Rep. Bernie Juskiewicz, who died Wednesday from the new coronavirus.

“It’s kind of surreal. It just happened to such a wonderful man,” Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland, a close friend of Juskiewicz’s, said Thursday.

Juskiewicz, 77, was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 2013 and served until he chose not to run for reelection in 2018. A Republican representing Cambridge, he sat first on the House Education Committee, before joining the Appropriations panel.

Juskiewicz developed a reputation as an advocate for secondary education, and was devoted to the University of Vermont, where he was a trustee. More recently, he strongly advocated for funding for the commissioning of the nuclear submarine the U.S.S Vermont, which was due to be commissioned this month but was postponed because of the Covid-19 crisis. He also was active in establishing Jenna’s House, a community recovery center in Johnson.

For friends and colleagues, Juskiewicz stood out for his loyalty and sense of humor. Cupoli said with a small laugh that Juskiewicz would refer to the two of them as the “Lee brothers” — “homely and ugly.” Juskiewicz never clarified which was which, he said.

Cupoli spoke often with Juskiewicz, and reached him by phone in the last few weeks when he was in the hospital being treated for what he believed was pneumonia. Cupoli said Juskiewicz had limited in-person contact with his family for much of his treatment. 

“The remoteness of this disease is heartbreaking for everybody,” Cupoli said. “It’s like nothing we have ever experienced before.”

A total of 23 people have died from the new virus in Vermont as of Thursday, according to the Health Department

Medical centers across the state have scrambled to build up treatment capacity for what could be an influx of patients with the highly contagious illness, while state officials have shut down schools and non-essential businesses, and asked Vermonters to stay home.

Many public officials reached Thursday said that Juskiewicz’s passing from the disease hit home for them.

Gov. Phil Scott praised Juskiewicz’s commitment to his constituents and ordered the state’s flags to fly at half-staff on Monday.

“I had the privilege of working with him during his time in the legislature and saw firsthand just how committed he was to his community,” Scott said in a statement. “Although this terrible new disease took Bernie from us, the impact of his service will live on.”

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, remembered Juskiewicz as a “jokester” and a willing collaborator on legislative issues regardless of party lines. He particularly had a passion for creating opportunities for young people in Vermont, she said.

“For him, it was service to the state above all,” Johnson said.

The speaker plans to hold a moment of silence in remembrance for Juskiewicz when the House returns to Montpelier.

Juskiewicz is survived by his wife, Suzan, three children and four grandchildren.

Before joining the Legislature, Juskiewicz worked in accounting and management for IBM. He also served on a number of school boards and worked at the department of employment and training.

Lucie Garand, a lobbyist with Downs Rachlin Martin, became friends with Juskiewicz in the Statehouse. She said he stood out for his loyalty to his constituents, dedication to his family, and a love of golf.

Green Mountain Care Board Chair Kevin Mullin, a former senator who worked with Juskiewicz on education legislation and was an occasional partner on the golf course, said he was shocked to learn of his passing.

“That’s the nature of this beast that we’re fighting,” Mullin said. “You don’t know who it’s going to attack and who you might lose.”

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