Redfield Proctor (1831-1908) was an extraordinary man.
The founder of the Vermont Marble Company and one of the leading business and political figures of the late 1800s, Proctor had a gift for connecting with people. One of the stories about him was that he could go into any town in Vermont and know at least one person from hisdays in the Civil War. Proctor was a colonel in the Union army. He had the “common touch” and was a natural politician.
He also moved easily among the most powerful men in the country. Presidents thought highly of him. Benjamin Harrison put Proctor in his cabinet in 1889. Three sitting Presidents — Harrison, McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt — all visited Proctor at his home in Vermont while they were in office.
Proctor was also a shrewd, almost to the point of ruthless, businessman. He thought nothing of taking a loss on a job if he could crush a business rival. One of the quotes that really summed up Proctor for me was a quote that I used at the beginning of my historical novel, Redfield Proctor and the Division of Rutland (History Press, 2011). In the quote Proctor is talking about how he cared more for power than he did money. “We worked for that [power] more than we did mere profit,” he said. That quote, for me, really summed up Proctor the businessman and the politician. He knew what he wanted and went out and got it. Obstacles be damned.
In my book, I really strived to bring this multi-faceted man to life -– his humor, affability, easy-going temperament, his political instincts, shrewdness, the way he attracted young men to his cause, promoted them and gave them great responsibility.
I have received many compliments about the book. One comment I especially enjoyed came from Nina Keck, a commentator for Vermont Public Radio, who told me her feelings about Proctor swung from admiration to dislike and back again as she read the book.
That comment was very gratifying to me. Redfield Proctor was not a one-dimensional figure. He was an extraordinary, complex, multi-faceted little-known giant of the late 1800s.