VERGENNES -- Albert F. Abair, 92, of Vergennes, died peacefully on Saturday, June 21, 2014, in Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
He was born in Middlebury to the late Frank and Mary Abair. Albert grew up as a tenement farmer with his family, working a small dairy farm in Panton. Although he was forced to stop his formal education at Grade 8, he had an amazing intellect, often figuring things like board length, roofing shingles and square footage in his head, while his grandchildren hunted for their calculators. A self-taught automotive mechanic, he earned a reputation early in life for being able to fix anything. One of Albert's very best friends, also a fellow World War II veteran, was stunned when Albert rebuilt a tiny Norelco electric motor on a $19.95 razor that was destined for the scrap heap.
He married Beatrice LeBeau on June 2, 1941, and they raised two daughters, Marguerite and Beverly. On Jan. 18, 1945, he entered the US Army and underwent basic training at Fort Croft, Spartanburg, S.C. After boot camp, he went to Fort Ord, Calif. Albert was trained as an Infantryman; and he served in both the 11th Airborne Division and the 27th Infantry Division. He boarded a US Navy ship in Portland, Ore., on July 7, 1945, and got off in Okinawa, Japan, on Aug. 12, 1945. The fierce fighting on Okinawa had ended when he arrived. When Japanese forces surrendered, he worked on vehicles and drove Jeeps for various officers while serving in the Army of Occupation on mainland Japan. Albert shared, on occasion, some of his experiences and told his family later in life that he did not think he would ever live to see old age when he steamed toward Okinawa. At 92, he realized that was one calculation he got wrong.
He received his Honorable Discharge at Fort Dix, N.J., and arrived home in Vergennes on Sept. 10, 1946, as the Army offered expedited discharges to soldiers who were married with children. After the Army, Albert became a master mechanic, receiving many ASE certifications. He worked at various garages and supervised the garage at Weeks School in Vergennes. At the farm house in Waltham, Albert began to build and repair the fledgling "Citizen's Band" radios which in Addison County were rapidly becoming the cell phones of their day. Using tubes and capacitors ordered from Heath Kit, he built, by hand, Walkie-Talkies, mobile CB radios and base stations. His official FCC-issued call sign was KBD-4309. His late wife, Beatrice, would often speak to him while he was on the way home over the CB radio, which she became skilled at using.
Albert met a fellow W.W.II veteran of the Normandy campaign, Arthur Towne, from Crown Point, N.Y., on the CB radio airwaves. The two would often chat nightly after the news was over. A lifelong friendship developed between the Abair and Towne families. Albert's grandchildren knew to keep quiet and behave themselves when he was chatting on the CB radio. Bea and Albert Abair ran a very loving, but tight ship when their grandchildren visited. The home was filled with love, as Albert softened a bit with age. His stern parenting was rarely seen by his grandchildren, who remember him for his warmth, patience and willingness to repair everything they broke, including bicycles, snowmobiles, lawn mowers and cars, without complaint.
In 1973, Al transferred to the Vermont Highway Department, District 5, in Colchester, and worked as a mechanic. He often was called out during terrible snowstorms and worked all night, fixing broken plow trucks stranded on state highways. Albert developed a tolerance for the cold, enabling him to deftly twist his Craftsman wrenches with bare hands, even in freezing Vermont winter air. Many plow truck drivers were returned to service after Albert, using only a roller creeper, lights and the tools on his State truck, did everything short of engine rebuilding. He called a tow truck only as a last resort. Tenacious and stubborn only begin to describe this good man's work ethic.
He was a very proud veteran and was often seen wearing a W.W.II cap. He visited the W.W.II Memorial in Washington, DC, and then attended a Friday night "Evening Parade" at Marine Barracks, 8th and "I" Streets, with his oldest grandson, who had served there from 1981-82. He was honored to be ushered to his front-row seat by a Marine Gunnery Sergeant, who thanked him for his military service.
Albert spent many years on the Board of Trustees of the Vergennes American Legion, Post 14, where he was extremely active well into his '80s. As one of the oldest active members, he was awarded lifetime membership privileges. The United States Army replaced his aging W.W.II uniform and he took great pride in serving on the Legion Color Guard, where he assisted with many military burials. After retiring from the State of Vermont 30 years ago, he had more spare time and became the "Jack of All Trades" at the Vergennes American Legion. He often played golf with his grandson, Tom Stebbins. He loved golfing at Basin Harbor Club, where he worked in later years as a Golf Ranger. He was an avid Red Sox fan.
Albert was predeceased by his wife, Beatrice, on June 7, 2011, shortly after they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Albert embodied the American dream, starting out as a child of the Great Depression, but through hard work and the support of his family, retiring comfortably. As late as Memorial Day in 2014, he was able to ride down and enjoy the Vergennes Parade.
He is survived by his two daughters, Marguerite and John Quinn of Middlebury, and Beverly and Roger Norton of Vergennes; five grandchildren, Robert (Angela) Stebbins of Georgia, Vt.; Thomas (Susan) Stebbins of Westford; Audrey (Christopher) Carter of Penacook, N.H., and their sons, Taylor and Tanner; Roger (Pamela) Norton II, and their daughter, Kara, and Albert's great-great-granddaughter, Logan, of Waltham; and Kevin (Karen) Norton and their son, Matthew, of Vergennes.
There will be no calling hours. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, at 10 a.m. at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Vergennes. Interment, with full military honors, will follow at Prospect Cemetery. There will be a reception at the Vergennes American Legion, Post 14. Arrangements are entrusted to Stephen C. Gregory & Son in South Burlington.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Addison County Home Health and Hospice, 254 Ethan Allen Hwy., Middlebury, VT 05753; or the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad, 106 Patton Road, Vergennes, VT 05491.