Honoring his honor, former mayor Bill Veroneau, as a family man

  • A photograph of former mayor William Veroneau is displayed at the back of St. John’s Church near the guest book during his service on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • William Veroneau’s grandson Spencer Sullivan speaks at the service at St. John’s in Concord on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The service for former mayor William Veroneau at St. John the Evangelist in Concord on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Spencer Sullivan speaks about his grandfather, former mayor William Veroneau, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Concord on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A photograph of William Veroneau sits near the altar during his remembrance service at St. John the Evangelist Church. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Mayor William Veroneau and then-acting City Manager Julia Griffin listen to finance director lay out the 1993 city budget at City Hall in December 1992. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor file

  • Concord city manager Jim Smith applauds with others at City Hall after William Veroneau in named the city’s mayor in January 1992. DAN HABIB / Monitor file

  • William Veroneau runs near his home in Penacook in November 1988. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Praised both as a diplomatic mayor during five terms in Concord and as a single dad of seven children at a time when the courts rarely gave divorced men custody, Bill Veroneau drew more than 100 people to St. John the Evangelist church on Monday to say goodbye.

Known as Mr. Penacook in many circles because of his family and business roots there, Veroneau died Nov. 4 following a slow decline connected to a stroke he suffered three years ago. He was 87.

Under Veroneau’s leadership through the 1990s, Concord maintained a zero percent municipal tax increase, illustrating his passion for fiscal conservatism.

But Veroneau’s family, which included six daughters and one son, added that their father was ahead of his time with respect to women’s rights and their potential to lead through strength.

“He was socially moderate to liberal,” Geraldine Veroneau, Bill’s oldest child, said by phone after the ceremony. “He raised six girls to be independent women. He was a women’s libber way before it became popular.”

Veroneau’s list of accomplishments covered a lot of ground following his graduation from St. John’s High School, now Bishop Brady High, in 1947. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Saint Anselm College in 1951.

He served in the Air Force for eight years, becoming a pilot who logged more than 2,400 hours of jet flying time, splitting his duties as an instructor in the Air Training Command and as an aircraft commander in the B-47 with the Strategic Air Command.

Veroneau also worked at Douglas Aircraft Missile and Space Division in Santa Monica, Calif., where his work helped build the foundation for the Saturn Moon Rocket, which carried astronauts into space during the 1960s and ’70s.

From there, Veroneau entered the Nationwide Insurance program and later opened his own business in Penacook and ran it for 35 years.

He was elected mayor in 1991, the first of five election victories, a number only recently surpassed by current Mayor Jim Bouley.

One of Veroneau’s 17 grandchildren, Spencer Sullivan of Alexandria, Va., spoke at the church tribute and said later by phone that Veroneau’s political philosophy was simple, fair and would have come in handy today.

“I always remember a story, and it’s timely for now,” Sullivan said. “My grandfather would always say that you may disagree with someone’s politics, but that does not mean you can’t like another person. You cannot demonize another person, but instead you have to work in ways to build a relationship. That would be a wonderful help today.”

And Veroneau’s position, and the way he went about city business, meant he left an impression on people beyond his family.

“Not flashy or flamboyant, just knowledgeable and competent,” Mike Pride, the Monitor’s editor when Veroneau was in office, said by email. “He prided himself on the need for the city council to be fiscally responsible, to hold the line on taxes. Year after year he minded the store ... and his natural tendency was to mend fences with political rivals.”

Yet it was Veroneau’s home life – the manner in which he mixed discipline with fun while raising his seven children – that took center stage during the service Monday morning at St. John’s Church.

In a unique decision by the court, Veroneau secured custody of his children from his ex-wife, who died in 1984 in her late 40s. He then utilized a natural sense of humor with tactics he had learned in the Air Force.

His children recalled rising early each morning – middle child Judy Sullivan, who now lives in Rhode Island, said 5 a.m., while Geraldine said 6 – and, led by their father, had a daily exercise program, each accompanied with specific music from Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and other artists.

“We’d get up for calisthenics,” Judy Sullivan said. “Then we’d salute the flag, and off to school at Immaculate Conception (Church in Penacook).”

“He raised all of us back when he got custody, when very few men were taking care of their kids,” Geraldine said. “He fought for us, and in terms of parenting he was way ahead of the curve.

“Every morning he had to leave for work, and we had to make the beds, make the breakfast, get dressed for school and get the heck out of there.”

With fitness and sports playing a vital role in his own life, Veroneau used the Concord Parks and Recreation Department’s summer programs to keep his kids busy and help with his dual role as provider and father.

For years, Veroneau reserved the second Sunday of each month for family time, when his kids and their kids and, later, their kids went to church and then ate a big meal, cooked by Veroneau himself at his home.

“The family was together all day long,” Geraldine said. “After church, he introduced us to all kinds of meals, then we’d have a project around the house, making a collage or studying something, the meaning of God, the meaning of life.”

Punctuality was important to the patriarch, with Veroneau’s schedule broken down to the minute.

“I remember stopping in his office,” Judy Sullivan said. “His secretary would check where he is and then tell me, ‘At 6:06 he will be in Concord for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.’ ”

Veroneau’s life turned tragic when his youngest daughter, Jane Dupont, died at the age of 49 from breast cancer in San Diego, where she had moved with her husband. Veroneau made many trips west to see her during her illness, often flying out with Judy Sullivan.

“He was deeply saddened,” Judy said. “Near the end, I felt I had to be there for some reason, and it was a quick decision on my part and Dad didn’t come with me at the time and she died. It was very hard on him.”

In his later years, Veroneau continued exercising hard. He competed in marathons, half marathons and triathlons, and he skied and played golf, until a stroke slowed him down and changed his life.

Geraldine Veroneau moved from her home in Salisbury to help care for her father at his house in Penacook.

“He never fully recovered from that,” Spencer Sullivan said of the stroke. “He was frustrated. He was not able to do the activities he cherished anymore.”

His family said the core of Veroneau’s life was the time he spent with his grandchildren, be it hiking or trips to see the Red Sox play at Fenway Park.

They also mentioned the manner in which he treated other people, always staying engaged with eye contact and genuine interest until the conversation had come to a natural conclusion.

“He was not a very tall person, but he was a man of incredible stature,” Geraldine said. “He practiced what he preached. I try to emulate him.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)