HE LOOKED enough like Robert Frost so that one often thought of them together: white-haired, craggy, plain-spoken Yankees. George Aiken, former governor and senator from Vermont who died Monday in Montpelier at the age of 92, has left a considerable a legacy.
Sen. Aiken came to Washington from state government. He had served in the Vermont legislature and was governor of the state in the '30s. His career here spanned the years from Pearl Harbor through Watergate, and for a long time he was the senior Republican in the Senate. A stalwart representative of the farming interests of his state, he was a special champion of the rural electrification program, the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the creation of the food stamp program. As a member of the Foreign Relatins Committee, he influenced American foreign policy and was a particularly outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam.
Legislative achievements can be listed for almost any senator, but George Aiken is remembered for more than that. He was, for many years, a model of simplicity, integrity and candor: a man of character. He publicly chastized his own party after the 1936 election for waging a personal assault on President Roosevelt instead of debating the issues. He joined Sen. Margaret Chase Smith in her 1950 "Declaration of Conscience" -- an early and courageous indictment of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In 1968, he cast the Senate's sole vote against the adoption of a code of ethics he found too lenient. He returned unspent office allowance funds to the Treasury, and when he married his longtime administrative assistant, Lola Pierotti, she left the payroll that very day, although she continued to work full-time.
The senator was never much impressed by our town and, unlike many of his colleagues, he returned to his native state upon retirement, eager to farm, to write and to enjoy the peace and beauty of the countryside around Putney. "I'm a Vermonter," he said after he left. "I was in prison for 34 years, and it was time to go free."