Milestones, Obituaries


Neil R. Stout

HARDWICK – Neil R. Stout, a professor of history at the University of Vermont for nearly 40 years, died at his home in Hardwick, on February 3, six months after his 90th birthday.

He was a beloved father, grandfather, husband and life partner, a warm neighbor, colleague and friend, whose upbeat spirit continued through his final days.

He was born August 12, 1932, in Lowell, Ohio, and grew up on a small family farm that had no electricity or indoor plumbing through much of his childhood and no telephone till 1963. His father, Ralph, was a farmer, his mother, Carrie, a schoolteacher. He learned to drive a tractor at age 9 and barely wore shoes in spring and summer. As the big brother of only sisters, he felt all he really lacked in his happy childhood were boys to play with. Consequently, he believed, he was never as good at sports as a lean farm boy who would grow to be 6’3” might have been. There was a benefit, though: he became a lifelong bookworm.

He excelled in school and activities (theater, debating, yearbook, and even varsity track as a hurdler) and won both academic accolades and farming prizes through 4-H. It was widely expected that he would go to an agricultural college, but with his mother’s encouragement, he applied to Harvard and was accepted with a full tuition scholarship. At a freshman mixer his first week there, he met Marilyn (Mainey) Blumenstiel, a Simmons College student also from Ohio. By senior year, they were engaged.

After graduating with a degree in history in 1954, he enlisted in the Army and had the good fortune of being sent to France in peacetime. Having never been out of the U.S. before, he delighted in taking trips to London, Paris, and other European capitals on leaves from his base. He returned to America in 1956 to marry Mainey and begin graduate studies in American history at the University of Wisconsin, earning a PhD in 1961.

His first faculty position was at Texas A&M but, eager to leave the segregated South, he accepted an offer in 1964 from the University of Vermont. He remained on the UVM history faculty until 2001, and he and Mainey built a happy life in Burlington, raising two children and giving them the same deep love and support that his parents had given him.

Though he specialized in colonial America, he ranged widely in his academic work, helping to found UVM’s historic preservation program, directing the university’s program in cultural history and museology, and teaching interdisciplinary courses such as a class on autobiographies. At the time of his death he was still in regular contact with students stretching back to the early 1970s.

His writings include two books, “The Perfect Crisis: The Beginning of the Revolutionary War” and “The Royal Navy in America, 1760-1775.” A guide he wrote for his students, “Getting the Most Out of Your U.S. History Course: The History Student’s Vade Mecum,” became so popular a large textbook company bought it and sold it with their history textbooks. His final piece of published writing appeared in November 2022 in the journal Commonplace, “The Curious Affair of the Horsewhipped Senator: A Diplomatic Crisis That Didn’t Happen”.

Over his long life, Neil had many interests and passions. He was a devoted member of an early-morning Bible study group at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington. He was an avid amateur photographer for a time, setting up a darkroom in his basement. Feeling out of shape in his late 40s, he began running, initially, a labored lap around the cul-de-sac where he lived. Within a year, he completed a marathon. He took up yoga in his 70s and was young at heart till his final days.

His life took a sad turn when his son Peter died suddenly in 2014 and Mainey died three years later, after 61 years of happy marriage. But he found new, unexpected love at age 85. Elizabeth (Wiz) Dow, a former graduate student who had lost her husband three years earlier, offered him condolences and advice about life after losing a beloved spouse. Soon they were talking on the phone for hours and finding excuses to meet for meals. In 2019, he moved to her home in Hardwick, where they lived joyfully with two cats, a vegetable garden and a porch swing. In August he celebrated his 90th birthday with a party on their lawn attended by people from many chapters of his life.

Neil is survived by his daughter, Hilary, and son-in-law, Peter Truell, of New York City; three grandchildren, Clare, Michael and John Truell; two sisters, Sarah Stout of Chevy Chase, Md., and Nancy Stout of New York City; and his partner, Wiz, who held his hand as he took his last breath. Besides Mainey and Peter, he lost a sister, Mary Carol, who died in infancy in 1942.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his honor may be made to the Jeudevine Library Expansion Project in Hardwick.

A memorial service will be held in Burlington in the spring at a date to be announced.

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