People & Places

Former Supreme Court justice Ernest W. Gibson III dies at 92

Ernest W. Gibson III
Former Vermont Supreme Court justice Ernest W. Gibson III served from 1983 until his retirement in 1997. Provided photo

His grandfather was a U.S. congressman and senator who went to school with President Calvin Coolidge.

His father was a Vermont governor who won a Purple Heart in World War II.

When Ernest W. Gibson III was born in 1927, he inherited not only a name but also a family tradition of public service. It was one that the longtime state Supreme Court justice continued until his death this week at age 92.

“He was a real Vermonter — he kept his mouth shut and his ears open and was full of common sense,” said former Gov. Howard Dean, who was sworn in by Gibson in 1997.

“Justice Gibson was a gentle soul and the epitome of what you’d want to see in a judge,” added Ed McSweeney, who clerked for him three decades ago and now works as the court’s chief staff attorney. “He had an open mind and treated everyone — be it a janitor or another justice — with respect.”

Gibson, the first child of former Gov. Ernest W. Gibson Jr. and Dorothy Pearl Switzer Gibson, attended elementary school in his birthplace of Brattleboro before going on to Washington, D.C., with his family and graduating from high school in 1945.

Drafted into the Army, Gibson served for a year before earning degrees from Yale University in 1951 and Harvard Law School in 1956.

Gibson returned to Brattleboro to open a law office and win election as Windham County state’s attorney, a post he held for four years.

Gibson married his sister’s college roommate, Charlotte Elaine Hungerford, in 1960, the same year he won a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives.

There, the moderate Republican — his family helped found the party’s more progressive Aiken-Gibson wing — became part of the “Young Turks,” an informal yet influential group of 10 freshman legislators who included such future state leaders as the late Philip Hoff, who became the first modern Democrat to win election as Vermont governor; Franklin Billings Jr., who became a state Supreme Court chief justice and U.S. District Court judge, and Richard Mallary, who became a congressman.

Gibson moved to Montpelier in 1963 when the newly elected Gov. Hoff appointed him chairman of the Vermont Public Service Board.

He went on to win appointment as a Vermont Superior Court judge in 1972 and served in all of the state’s 14 counties for a decade.

Named a state Supreme Court justice in 1983, Gibson presided on the bench — and played first base on its softball team, the Court Jesters — until his retirement in 1997 at age 70.

Ernest W. Gibson III
Ernest W. Gibson III as a child with his father, former Gov. Ernest W. Gibson Jr., and his grandfather, former U.S. congressman and senator Ernest W. Gibson. Courtesy photo

“He was a really remarkable man,” Dean summed him up.

At home, Gibson enjoyed bridge, tennis and Boston sports teams. A lifelong Episcopalian, he was active in the church in Brattleboro and Montpelier and served as chancellor of the Diocese of Vermont from 1977 to 1998 and a national deputy to the Episcopal General Convention from 1976 to 1994.

Gibson is survived by his wife of 60 years; his daughter Margaret Gibson McCoy, son-in-law Patrick McCoy and grandsons Jackson and Jacob McCoy of East Montpelier; his son John Gibson of Watertown, Massachusetts, and his sister Grace Newcomer of Westport Point, Massachusetts.

Gibson was predeceased by his daughter Mary Cerutti of Montpelier, whose husband is Charlie Cerutti and children are Adam and Helen Cerutti and Evan Frank; and brothers Robert H. Gibson, who served as Vermont Senate secretary from 1967 to 1999, and David A. Gibson, who served as Senate secretary from 2000 to 2010.

Arrangements are pending at Guare & Sons, Barber & Lanier Funeral Home of Montpelier.


Kevin O'Connor

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