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Ernest W. Gibson Jr.
Ernest W. Gibson Jr..jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont
In office
October 18, 1949 – November 4, 1969
Appointed by Harry S. Truman
Preceded by James Patrick Leamy
Succeeded by James L. Oakes
67th Governor of Vermont
In office
January 9, 1947 – January 16, 1950
Lieutenant Lee E. Emerson
Harold J. Arthur
Preceded by Mortimer R. Proctor
Succeeded by Harold J. Arthur
United States Senator
from Vermont
In office
June 24, 1940 – January 3, 1941
Appointed by George Aiken
Preceded by Ernest Willard Gibson
Succeeded by George Aiken
Personal details
Born Ernest William Gibson Jr.
(1901-03-06)March 6, 1901
Brattleboro, Vermont, U.S.
Died November 4, 1969(1969-11-04) (aged 68)
Brattleboro, Vermont, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Dorothy P. Switzer
Ann H. Haag
Alma mater Norwich University
George Washington University Law School
Profession Lawyer
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Rank US Army O6 shoulderboard rotated.svg Colonel
Unit 43rd Infantry Division
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Purple Heart

Ernest William Gibson Jr. (March 6, 1901 – November 4, 1969) was a Vermont attorney, politician, and judge. He served briefly as an appointed United States Senator, as the 67th Governor of Vermont, and as a federal judge.

Born in Brattleboro, and the son of a prominent Vermont political figure who served in the United States Senate, Gibson graduated from Norwich University in 1923, attended The George Washington University Law School, and attained admission to the bar in 1926. A Republican, he served in several elected and appointed positions in state government. When his father died while serving in the Senate, Gibson was appointed to temporarily fill the vacancy, and he served from June 1940 to January 1941.

A veteran of the Army Reserve and Vermont National Guard, during World War II, Gibson served in the South Pacific and on the staff of the War Department, and received several decorations for heroism. In 1946, he ran for Governor of Vermont and defeated the incumbent in the Republican primary, the only time this has ever occurred in Vermont. He went on to win the general election, and won reelection in 1948.

Gibson served as governor until accepting appointment as judge of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont; he remained on the bench until his 1969 death in Brattleboro. He was buried at Morningside Cemetery in Brattleboro.

Early life[edit]

Gibson was born on March 6, 1901 in Brattleboro, Vermont, the son of Grace Fullerton Hadley and Vermont Senator Ernest Willard Gibson.[1] He attended the public schools and graduated from Norwich University in 1923,[2] where he was a member of the Alpha chapter of Theta Chi International Fraternity.[3] He attended The George Washington University Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1926.[4] While studying law he also taught at the New York Military Academy in Cornwall, New York[5] and worked as a mathematician on the Coast and Geodetic Survey.[6]

Early career[edit]

Gibson began practicing law in Brattleboro in 1927. A Republican, he was State's Attorney of Windham County from 1929 to 1933; assistant secretary of the Vermont State Senate from 1931 to 1933; and secretary from 1933 to 1940.[7]

While serving on the Senate staff, Gibson was part of a network of acquaintances who were all lawyers, Republican party activists and National Guard members. In addition to Gibson, this group included: Leonard F. Wing; Harold J. Arthur; Murdock A. Campbell; and Francis William Billado.


Gibson was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor George D. Aiken on June 24, 1940, filling the vacancy caused by the death of his father, Ernest Willard Gibson. The younger Gibson served from June 24, 1940 to January 3, 1941, but did not run in the election to fill the vacancy. He was succeeded in the Senate by Aiken, a family friend. Political observers assumed that Gibson accepted the temporary appointment to facilitate Aiken's election. Knowing that Aiken desired to become a Senator, Gibson accepted the appointment and agreed not to run in a primary against him, which another appointee might have done. Gibson was willing to fill the vacancy temporarily and then defer to Aiken because Gibson hoped to serve as Governor.[8]

World War II[edit]

Shell on which Kennedy scratched message requesting help. Gibson returned it to Kennedy.
Gibson receiving first aid after being wounded.

From January to May, 1941, Gibson was Executive Secretary and later Chairman of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (the William Allen White Committee), which advocated for aid to the Allies prior to United States military involvement in World War II.[9]

A longtime member of the Army Reserve and Vermont National Guard, Gibson served in the South Pacific as G-2 (Intelligence Officer) with the 43rd Infantry Division. He later served on the Intelligence staff at the War Department.[10]

While serving in the Pacific Theater, Gibson was wounded. A newspaper photo showing him having his head bandaged after he was wounded was circulated internationally, along with a caption identifying him as a former Senator, and he gained a measure of fame as a result.[11][12]

When John F. Kennedy and his crew from PT-109 were rescued, the coconut shell Kennedy used to send a message asking for help came into Gibson's possession.[13] Gibson later returned it to Kennedy.[14] Kennedy had the shell preserved in a glass paperweight, which was displayed on his Oval Office desk during his presidency.[15] It is now on display at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts.[16]

Gibson was discharged as a colonel at the end of the war. His awards included the Silver Star, Legion of Merit and Purple Heart.[17]

Governor of Vermont[edit]

In 1946, Vermont political observers expected Leonard F. Wing, the commander of the 43rd Division during the war, to run for Governor. The unanswered question was whether incumbent Governor Mortimer R. Proctor would run again, or would defer to Wing for the Republican nomination, then tantamount to election in Vermont.[18]

Wing died in December 1945, soon after returning home from the war.[19] Without Wing in the race, Gibson was free to announce his candidacy. Proctor decided to run for reelection, creating a rare Republican primary contest.[20]

Gibson, an internationalist and a progressive, argued against the Republican status quo. Making the case against unwritten party policies including the Mountain Rule and the limitation of Governors to two years in office, Gibson appealed to war veterans and younger voters, calling for action over inertia, saying "Under this rule a relatively small clique of people choose governors nearly 10 years in advance, supporting them up a series of political steps to the highest office."[21]

(According to the Mountain Rule, which had existed since the founding of the Republican Party in the 1850s, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor candidates were identified years in advance, and alternated between the east and west sides of the Green Mountains. Governors were limited to two years in office. U.S. Senators were also allocated based on the Green Mountains—one from the east and one from the west. As a result of this party discipline, even after the advent of primary elections and the direct election of Senators, Republicans won every statewide election in Vermont for more than 100 years.)[22]

Gibson defeated Proctor and won the general election in 1946, in what was called "a repudiation by Vermont voters of political practices and traditions that have been long established – a rebellion, not against outright mismanagement and inefficiency in the state government at Montpelier, but rather against the inertia and lack of aggressiveness of administration policies."[23]

He won reelection in 1948 and served from January 1947 to January 1950. During Gibson's first term, he concentrated on increasing state services following years of small budgets and limited priorities following the years of the Great Depression and World War II.[24] He obtained approval of plans to expand and modernize state highways, improve health services, and enhance education and social welfare programs.[25] To raise the funds necessary to support the largest budget in state history ($31 million), Gibson advocated for and obtained an increase in the state income tax.[25]

Gibson resigned to become a federal judge, and was succeeded by Harold J. Arthur.[26][27]

Federal judge[edit]

Frustrated at dealing with a Republican Vermont General Assembly and party structure that was more conservative than he, Gibson contemplated an early exit from the governorship rather than trying for a third term.[28]

The opportunity came when Judge James Patrick Leamy of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont died in 1949.[29][30] President Harry S. Truman nominated Gibson for the position.[31][32] Gibson was confirmed in 1950, and served until his death.[33][34]

In 1956 Gibson was appointed a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army.[35] The Civilian Aide program uses prominent individuals in each state and territory to promote goodwill between the civilian population and the Army by ensuring that the public is aware of ongoing Army projects and programs.[36]

During Gibson's time on the bench his law clerks included M. Jerome Diamond[37] and James M. Jeffords, who clerked for Gibson from 1962 to 1963.[38][39] According to Jeffords, a lesson imparted by Gibson played a role in Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party in 2001, which changed control of the United States Senate. As related by Jeffords, Gibson once paid closer attention to the facts than the letter of the law in order to arrive at a just outcome in a tort case involving skiing. When Jeffords questioned Gibson's approach, Gibson said "Never let the law get in the way of justice; justice is what counts." Jeffords further stated that he reflected on this quote often when considering decisions, including his decision to leave the Republicans.[40]

In 1969 Gibson headed a committee to investigate the 1968 “Irasburg Affair,” in which an African American minister was targeted by a campaign to force him out of Vermont. This effort included police harassment as well as an anonymous individual firing gunshots into the minister’s home. Gibson's commission found fault with local and state authorities, including members of the Vermont State Police.[41][42][43]


Gibson died in Brattleboro on November 4, 1969 and was interred in Brattleboro's Morningside Cemetery.[44]


Gibson received several honorary degrees during his life, including a LL.D. from the University of Vermont[45] and a D.J.S.[46][47] He received a posthumous LL.D. from Saint Michael's College in November, 1969.[48]


He married Dorothy P. Switzer (1902-1958) on October 9, 1926, and they had four children.[49][50] In 1961 he married Ann H. Haag.[51]

His son Ernest W. Gibson III (born 1927) served as a Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court.[52] His daughter Grace Gibson Newcomer (born 1930) was a professor at Westchester Community College.[53][54] His son Robert H. Gibson (1931-1999) served as Assistant Secretary of the Vermont Senate from 1963 to 1967, and Secretary from 1967 to 1999.[55] His son David A. Gibson (1936-2010) served in the Vermont State Senate from 1977 to 1983, and was Senate Secretary from 2000 to 2010.[56]


  1. ^ J.T. White, The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1952, page 214
  2. ^ Cavendish Historical Society, Families of Cavendish: Families of Cavendish, Vt., 2008, page 431
  3. ^ Theta Chi Fraternity, The Rattle of Theta Chi, 1949
  4. ^ H.W. Wilson Company, Current Biography, 1949, page 222
  5. ^ J. T. White, The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1952, page xlviii
  6. ^ Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Collier's magazine, 1947, page 12
  7. ^ John J. Duffy, Samuel B. Hand, Ralph H. Orth, editors, The Vermont Encyclopedia, 2003, page 136
  8. ^ Samuel B. Hand, The Star That Set: The Vermont Republican Party, 1854-1974, 2003, page 133
  9. ^ Michele Hilmes, NBC: America's Network, 2007, page 53
  10. ^ University of Vermont, Ernest W. Gibson Papers: Biography, Ernest W. Gibson, retrieved February 20, 2014
  11. ^ Mark Bushnell, Barre Times Argus, Ernest Gibson: War Hero, Politician, GOP Reformer, October 4, 2009
  12. ^ Peter Langrock, Beyond the courthouse: Tales of Lawyers and Lawyering, 1999, page 4
  13. ^ Associated Press, Troy Record, Judge's Rites Today In Vermont, November 7, 1969
  14. ^ Sumner Augustus Davis, Barnabas Davis (1599-1685) and His Descendants, 1973, pages 200-201
  15. ^ Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963, 2003, Chapter 19
  16. ^ John F. Kennedy Library, Coconut Shell Paperweight, retrieved February 24, 2014
  17. ^ Samuel B. Hand, Anthony Marro, Stephen C. Terry, Philip Hoff: How Red Turned Blue in the Green Mountain State, 2011, page 1
  18. ^ Earle Williams Newton, The Vermont Story: A History of the People of the Green Mountain State, 1749-1949, 1949, page 255
  19. ^ Theta Chi Fraternity, The Rattle of Theta Chi, 1948
  20. ^ Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 20 in 20: Vermont's Great Moments in the 20th Century, Ernest Gibson Wins GOP Gubernatorial Primary - 1946, 1999
  21. ^ Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 20 in 20: Vermont's Great Moments in the 20th Century, Ernest Gibson Wins GOP Gubernatorial Primary - 1946, 1999
  22. ^ Samuel B. Hand, The Star That Set: The Vermont Republican Party, 1854-1974, 2003, page 36
  23. ^ Ogdensburg Advance, What the Papers Say: Vermont Political Upheaval, August 25, 1946
  24. ^ Doyle, Bill (August 1, 2013). "Governor Ernest Gibson". The World. Barre, VT. 
  25. ^ a b "Governor Ernest Gibson".
  26. ^ Vermont State Archives, Description, Ernest W. Gibson Jr. Papers, Biography, 2007, page 1
  27. ^ Vermont State Archives, Inaugural Address, Harold J. Arthur, January 16, 1950, page 1
  28. ^ Kevin O'Connor, Rutland Herald, Is Bernie the Next Aiken?, December 17, 2006
  29. ^ Vermont Secretary of State, Vermont Legislative Directory, 1969, page 287
  30. ^ Yonkers Herald-Statesman, Death Notice, James P. Leamy, July 25, 1949
  31. ^ James M. Jeffords, An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant, 2003, page 66
  32. ^ Sheldon Goldman, Picking Federal Judges: Lower Court Selection from Roosevelt Through Reagan, 1999, page 69
  33. ^ Associated Press, Berkshire Eagle, Vermont Governor Quitting Jan. 15, January 5, 1950
  34. ^ Associated Press, North Adams Transcript, Both Sides Claim Gains on Judgeship, December 31, 1969
  35. ^ Army, Navy and Air Force Journal, Named Aide to Army Secy., Volume 93, Issues 27-52, 1956, page 960
  36. ^ Laura L. DeFrancisco U.S. Army, New Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army Invested, April 16, 2012
  37. ^ Miller, Kelton (April 20, 1974). "And Soon to be Candidate: Jerry Diamond; A State's Attorney for All Seasons". Bennington Banner. Bennington, VT. (Incorrectly indicates that he was born in Tennessee.)
  38. ^ James M. Jeffords, An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant, 2003, page 56
  39. ^ Congressional Quarterly, Inc., Congressional Staff Directory, 2006, page 100
  40. ^ Marlo Thomas, editor, The Right Words at the Right Time, 2004, pages 159-160
  41. ^ Roderick Stackelberg, Memory and History: Recollections of a Historian of Nazism, 1967-1982, 2011, page 17
  42. ^ Hand, Marro, Terry, Philip Hoff: How Red Turned Blue in the Green Mountain State, page xi
  43. ^ Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions, P. Jeffrey Potash, Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont, 2004, page 543
  44. ^ Associated Press, Troy Record, U.S. Judge's Funeral Set Friday, November 6, 1969
  45. ^ "Austin, Gibson Get Honorary Degrees at UVM". Burlington Free Press. Burlington, VT. June 17, 1947. p. 11. (Subscription required (help)). 
  46. ^ Episcopal Church General Convention, Journal of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, 1952, page 87
  47. ^ Episcopal Church General Convention, Journal of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, 1961, page 155
  48. ^ Bennington Banner, Posthumous Degree Planned, November 14, 1969
  49. ^ Vermont Marriage Records, 1909-2008, entry for Ernest William Gibson and Dorothy Pearl Switzer, retrieved February 20, 2014
  50. ^ Bennington Banner, Death Notice, Mrs. Ernest W. Gibson, August 18, 1958
  51. ^ Vermont Marriage Records, 1909-2008, entry for Ernest W. Gibson and Ann H. Haag, retrieved February 20, 2014
  52. ^ Trust Company of Vermont, Directors biography, Ernest W. Gibson III, retrieved February 20, 2014
  53. ^ South Coast Today, Letter, Polar Thinking Prevents Deep Thinking, August 9, 2004
  54. ^ Joseph R. LaPlante, South Coast Today, Cable Committee Disbanded by Selectmen, December 6, 2005
  55. ^ Vermont Bar Association, The Vermont Bar Journal, Volume 25, Issue 3, 1999, page 71
  56. ^ Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, Obituary, David A. Gibson, August 19, 2010

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Ernest W. Gibson, Sr.
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Vermont
1940 – 1941
Served alongside: Warren R. Austin
Succeeded by
George Aiken
Political offices
Preceded by
Mortimer R. Proctor
Governor of Vermont
Succeeded by
Harold J. Arthur
Legal offices
Preceded by
James Patrick Leamy
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont
Succeeded by
James L. Oakes


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