December 26, 2006

Former Senator, Father of Stafford Loan, Dies at 93

Posted in Student Loan News at 10:00 AM by Joe From Boston

Most people don’t know anything about the history of student loans in the U.S.  I thought I’d share this article with you, about the man who helped create the Stafford Loan.

The Associated Press

Former U.S. senator Robert Stafford, a staunch environmentalist and champion of education whose name is familiar to countless college students through a loan program named for him, died yesterday. He was 93. Stafford was surrounded by family at a Rutland nursing home when he died at 9:30 a.m., said Neal Houston, his former chief of staff.

A Republican, Stafford served two years as governor, 11 years in the House and 17 in the Senate before retiring in 1988.

Gov. Jim Douglas ordered flags lowered to half staff yesterday as he saluted Stafford. “Governor Stafford was a tremendous public servant, a man of the deepest personal integrity and someone whom I admired greatly,” Douglas said in a statement. “From the higher education finance program that now bears his name or his advocacy for clean air and water, Americans will continue to benefit greatly from his legacy of success.”

Stafford became a defender of the environment during his 28 years in Washington. Time and again he came to the defense of the Superfund program to clean up contaminated sites across the country. He guided bills combating acid rain and air pollution from automobiles through the Congress from his position as ranking Republican on the Senate’s environment committee.

He also dedicated himself to education from his perch on the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts and the Humanities. Congress saluted his dedication in 1988, renaming the Federal Guaranteed Student Loan program the Robert T. Stafford Student Loan program. The low-interest loans to students are now known almost universally as “Stafford loans” to the millions who qualify for them each year. According to the federal Education Department, about 14 million Stafford loans were given to postsecondary students in 2006.

Stafford wasn’t shy about bucking presidents of his own party, leading a successful effort to override President Reagan’s veto of amendments that strengthened the Clean Water Act. He also tangled with industry when he believed it was thwarting efforts to clean the environment.

“If you ever want a piece of paper saying you are a certified (S.O.B.), come to me,'” he was told once by an auto industry executive.

Stafford co-sponsored the Wilderness Protection Act in the early 1980s. A 22,758-acre tract of the Green Mountain National Forest in Bennington and Rutland counties, which was designated by that law a national recreation area, was renamed earlier this year the Robert T. Stafford White Rocks National Recreation Area.

Stafford’s reputation as a moderate Republican and sometime maverick in Washington was the end of a long journey for a man who once considered himself conservative, even hawkish. He attributed the transformation to education.

“When I was young and in the Rutland city’s prosecutor’s office and then the state’s attorney’s office, I thought in terms of local problems,” Stafford told the Associated Press in 1998, on the 10th anniversary of his Senate retirement. “Then I got involved in statewide politics and began to realize that some things had to be dealt with on a statewide basis.

“The same process of personal education continued when I went to Washington and began to realize that the problems in many cases were nationwide – air and water, maintaining a military – and had to be thought of that way.”

Born Aug. 8, 1913, Stafford was a true son of Rutland. He got an undergraduate degree from Middlebury College in 1935 and a law degree from Boston University in 1938. Education became a lifetime pursuit. He listed in his official biography with the state degrees from the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College and Norwich University from the 1950s through 1970.

But it was to Rutland he always returned and where he ultimately retired with his wife, Helen.

Reserved and almost shy at times, Stafford ended up with a long career in public service that he hadn’t anticipated. “I never really intended to be a politician myself,” Stafford told the AP.


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