Local ‘Giant’ In The Legal Community Dead At Age 80

John Primmer

A long-time local lawyer whose last name is listed first in the name of a multi-state law firm with 45 attorneys died recently after a period of declining health.

John Primmer established the Primmer & Piper law firm with Bill Piper and Denise Deschenes in 1982. The firm joined forces with Eggleston & Cramer Ltd. in 2006 to form Primmer, Piper, Eggleston & Cramer Attorneys At Law, which today lists 45 attorneys with Vermont offices in Burlington and Montpelier, New Hampshire offices in Littleton, Manchester and Portsmouth and an office in Washington D.C.

Primmer, a resident of Ryegate, died on Sunday, Aug. 29 at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin. He was 80 years old.

“I will miss not having John around on this earth,” said Piper on Tuesday.

A resident of Waterford, Piper first met Primmer when both were working for the law firm of Downs, Rachlin & Martin in St. Johnsbury.

Feeling DR&M was growing too big, Primmer decided he’d like to start his own firm and sought partners within DR&M to join him, recalled Piper, who together with Deschenes formed the new firm. They rented space in the building currently housing St. Johnsbury Dental Associates on Prospect Street and in 1992 moved their offices to Summer Street where the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center operates now.

Piper said the decision to start the small firm and leave the large and successful DR&M felt right. The only thing, Piper said jokingly, that felt a little out of place was the order of names for the business.

“I suggested it should be ‘Piper and Primmer’ strictly on the basis of the order of the alphabet,” he said.

Deschenes said she was an associate at DR&M when the opportunity to follow Primmer and Piper into the creation of a new firm came up.

“I think they asked me because they needed a grunt to do the work,” she said.

The firm would grow in the next two decades as the original three partners worked together. When the opportunity to merge firms with Eggleston & Cramer came about in 2006, Primmer had already retired from the business, but Piper said Primmer was supportive of the idea.

Deschenes, a resident of Littleton who still works for the company, and Piper both called Primmer their mentor.

“He was a real lawyer’s lawyer, very professional,” said Deschenes.

Piper called him a “giant” in the legal community who was greatly respected by judges and lawyers.

He said, “I remember as a young lawyer being noticeably impressed with the way John could see a problem and come up with a way to address it … He had a terrific grasp of the law but also the imagination to figure out the solution to clients’ problems.”

Piper also said Primmer didn’t appear to create enemies even among people on the opposite side of a given legal dispute.

“John just had a way with people. He was a fierce advocate for clients, but I didn’t know of anyone on the other side of a deal with John that didn’t like and respect him at the end of the deal,” Piper said.

Among Primmer’s accomplishments in his legal sphere was helping to create a captive insurance model for the state of Vermont. Captive insurance is a self-insurance mechanism for large corporations.

Primmer helped write the legislation that was adopted by Vermont. Deschenes said it was the envy of other states and the model from which many states created their legislation.

Piper and Deschenes connected with Primmer through the years after he left the law firm. The trio met for lunch at the end of June. It was the last time Piper saw him.

Deschenes last saw him at the hospital the day he died. She sat with him for a couple of hours.

Primmer had been in the hospital since Aug. 11, which was two days before the 10th anniversary of the death of his second wife Donna. That loss, his son Daniel said, impacted his father’s health.

“There was a sequence of health issues, but I’d say what was the most dominant was his broken heart,” Daniel said.

Primmer’s first wife was Patricia, with whom he had Robert. Later, through his marriage to Donna, they had Daniel.

John and Donna Primmer moved to Ryegate in 2001 after living in Peacham for a number of years. A fire in 2004 forced them to rebuild. Dan has been living at the home since 2017, helping to care for his dad.

His son, Robert, lives in Cambridge, Mass.

“He was a good father and a provider and a devoted husband, Robert said. “He was there. He had your back when you needed it. He was tremendously loyal and sometimes stubborn and thick-headed. He and I didn’t see eye to eye politically in any conceivable way.”

He credits his father for instilling in him a love of reading. Robert is now a teacher.

Piper spoke of the things Primmer enjoyed after concluding his law career.

“He loved to travel. He loved immersing himself in places. He loved to eat good food. He was a great cook and a great host. He was as happy at a barbecue grill as anywhere else.”

The family is working with Ricker Funeral Home in Woodsville, N.H. Robert said there will likely be a memorial for his dad next spring.

He said because of his father’s love for dogs anyone who feels like supporting an organization in honor of John Primmer should donate to their local humane society or local animal rescue organization.

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