Four-term Massachusetts legislator Vern Farnsworth dies at 80

Published Apr. 29, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — If 80-percent of life really is just showing up, Vern Farnsworth had a head start on most people.

Mr. Farnsworth, a former Massachusetts legislator and a St. Petersburg civic leader, could be counted on to be where he said he would be on the dot.

"His big thing was to dress well, speak well and always be on time," said Connie Bladon, his daughter. "For him, it was showing respect."

Mr. Farnsworth, a Republican, won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1964, serving a western portion of the state. He was proud of stopping cigarette advertising on television and for making it harder to cheat the welfare system.

He was re-elected three times. Mr. Farnsworth enjoyed campaigning and had mastered the art of the "mix and mingle," as he called it. In his free time he lectured on the Constitution or attended the theater or the opera.

Vernon R. Farnsworth was born in Springfield, Mass., April 18, 1934, and raised by a single mother. The Boys Club taught him to resolve disputes without getting into fistfights, his daughter said. Mr. Farnsworth later lived in Beverly Hills, Calif., with actor Wendell Corey, an uncle who played the police lieutenant alongside James Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window, and other memorable roles with the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Jack Palance and Elvis Presley.

Mr. Farnsworth sang in nightclubs from a young age. "I think that's where he got his confidence," his daughter said.

He married Constance Drewry in 1956 and started a family. Mr. Farnsworth worked as a financial analyst, a career he maintained through his terms in the legislature. He was constantly interacting with people from all levels of society, from working class constituents to people at the highest levels of government.

Former U.S. Attorney General Elliott Richardson, one the few of President Richard Nixon's lieutenants to emerge unscathed by Watergate, was a close friend.

Massachusetts Gov. Francis Sargent later appointed Mr. Farnsworth to the state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

His marriage ended in divorce after 26 years. Mr. Farnsworth moved to France in 1984 with Elise Morin, a native of Montreal whom he married in 1985. They later moved to Pinellas County.

He worked as a spokesman for Capitol Marketing Concepts in St. Petersburg and counseled consumers for the National Foundation for Debt Management. Mr. Farnsworth also served on the boards of WEDU-Ch. 3; Florida Blood Services Foundation; and the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. He and his wife were also members of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College.

Bladon, 56, the executive director of Florida Hospital Foundation, said her father taught her to "be able to present yourself in front of people and also just really appreciate who people are and what they have to offer."

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Mr. Farnsworth had been weakening from cancer and other health issues in recent weeks, but still was working out in the gym, his daughter said. He died at home under hospice care the morning of April 18, his 80th birthday.