Retired dairy farmer, veteran of the Second World War, motion picture star, and candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1998. Oh, and did I forget to say genuine American hero? Well, I sure think he is.

Fred Tuttle (everyone just calls him "Fred") was born in Tunbridge, Vermont on July 18, 1919 to an old farming family. Words are hardly adequate to describe the man as he now is. He dresses plainly, wearing denim overalls topped off with a blue cap that says "FRED." Thick, black-rimmed glasses are anchored to his craggy but warm face. He speaks in a nearly unintelligible Vermont accent, a strange mix of French Canadian tone and the better-known drawl of Downeast Maine. This is the kind of accent you only come by if your family has been living in the backwoods of Vermont for a century of more. Such people are becoming increasingly rare. Fred has few controversial opinions; in fact, he has few opinions. He, more than many others, simply "is," and that's what comes across when he talks.

His life, prior to about 1995, was reasonably mundane. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade and remained on his family farm until he joined the army in WWII, fighting in Europe. After the war, he came back to Tunbridge and continued life with the cows until medical problems compelled him to retire in 1989. He now raises sheep, the advantage presumably being that you don't have to milk them every day.

Independent filmmaker John O'Brien became acquainted with Fred in the early 1990s, and cast him in his short 1992 film called "Vermont Is for Lovers." Then, in 1995, Fred appeared in O'Brien's low budget political satire, "Man with a Plan." The plot of this film involves a retired Vermont dairy farmer named Fred who decides to run for Congress, reasoning that the pay is good and "it's the only job you can get with a 10th-grade educationand no references." His no nonsense approach nets him the fictional win (by one vote), and he moves to Washington to begin his new career and work toward his campaign promise of launching excess garbage into outer space.

The film, not much seen outside of Vermont, catapulted Fred into instant superstardom in his home state. He is the quintessential old Vermonter, and I think people in that state really liked seeing him on screen. One began to see bumper stickers on cars saying "Spread Fred," Fred's campaign slogan in the film. I believe there was even a booth at the state fair where one could meet him.

Fast forward to 1998. Vermont's long-time Democratic Senator, the powerful Patrick Leahy (who himself had a cameo in the film "Batman and Robin"), was coming up for reelection. A millionaire management consultant from Massachusetts (he owned a vacation home in Vermont for 15 years) moved to the state in 1997 with the express purpose of spending big and unseating Leahy. Now, if there's one thing that Vermonters don't like, it's people who pretend to be Vermonters. The man's name is Jack McMullen, and in 1998 he announced that he would stand in the Vermont Republican primary in order to gain the nomination and challenge Leahy.

O'Brien decided it would be fun to make a Senatorial candidate out of Fred, and gathered signatures and filed forms. McMullen was miffed by this, considering it a mockery of the democratic process. He officially challenged Fred's candidacy by invalidating signatures on Fred's candidacy petition, which requires signatures of 500 registered voters. It turns out that Fred needed to get 23 more signatures in a week to become a legitimate candidate. O'Brien went out and got 2,300. McMullen began to sense that he had a problem on his hands and began to be nice to Fred in the press. He even sent Fred flowers when he underwent knee replacement surgery. (BTW, in fairness to McMullen, Fred's family also came from Massachusetts, moving to Vermont as recently as 1832.)

Fred seemed to have a good time with the primary, speaking out on his positions (including "more girlie shows" at the Tunbridge World's Fair) and referring to McMullen as a flatlander. McMullen got tripped up by Fred in some of the debates: first, he mispronounced the name of a Vermont town, saying (for Calais) "cal-AY," like the French, when Fred points out that the residents actually call it "CAL-iss." But the big deal came when Fred asked McMullen (in a televised debate) how many teats are on a cow's udder.

You have to understand that Vermont is cow country. People there in many cases live and die by the cows (and the Northeast Dairy Compact). So when flatlander McMullen answered "six" (instead of, I believe, four), his candidacy was surely sunk.

On September 8, 1998, Vermonters turned out to the polls in large numbers. The state has an open primary, meaning that voters registered with one party may actually vote on either the Republican or Democratic race. Many, many Democrats crossed over and vote for Fred, who wound up with 55% of the vote. He only spent $201 on the primary; his opponent, $475,000 (including $227,000 of his own money). McMullen said publicly that Fred "hijacked" the election, to which Fred replied that he was hardly capable of hijacking the entire state of Vermont.

But now Fred had a problem: he didn't actually want to become a US {Senator], and it seems that he thought Leahy was a pretty good guy. But he'd been nominated, so he carried on, pledging to spend only $251 ($1 for each town in Vermont), and he called on Leahy to donate his $500,000 campaign war chest to charity (which Leahy refused to do, but politely). So Fred and Leahy duked it out in the most civilized manner possible. Fred's wife Dottie invited the Leahys over for dinner, and they ate muffins in Fred's kitchen. Fred rambled incoherently in debates, but always smiled. He never failed to remind everyone that his wife didn't want to move to Washington, and that he himself was voting for Leahy. Fred held a "nickel-a-plate" fundraiser and donated campaign contributions to his local library. In the end, as one commentator remarked, we got to know the candidates in a way that would never had been possible had they been adversaries.

Fred managed to capture about 25% of the popular vote on Election Day, having spent only (according to his tally) $16 on the campaign. Leahy was gracious in victory, and I think he learned a little something new about Vermonters in the process. Fred's words on Leahy leave no room for doubt about his opinion of the outcome: "He knows how many tits on a cow."

Fred has since faded back into relative obscurity, where he likes it. He's filmed a couple of public service announcements for the Red Cross and even endorsed some local candidates for minor office. My wife sees him occasionally at the Veteran's Hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, and he is in frail health.

And when he dies I will cry, because in him we saw something pure, that something which turns politicians into statesmen: sincerity. He would have been a terrible Senator. But all he wanted to do was go back to the farm, and he told us so. You gotta love him for that.

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