BANGOR, Maine — The chance to meet one of the television icons they grew up with drew dozens of people to Nicky’s Cruisin’ Diner on Union Street on Tuesday.
Jerry Mathers was the star of the “Leave It To Beaver” sitcom that debuted in 1957 and ran for six seasons. The show lives on in syndication.
Now Mathers, 60, has another role in the 21st century — helping to spread the word about the “Help is Here Express,” a nationwide bus tour that promotes the Partnership for Prescription Assistance.
Mathers said he became involved in promoting the partnership two years ago at the request of talk show host Montel Williams.
“A lot of people in this country are uninsured or struggling and they have to deal with paying rent, putting food on the table and other costs,” Mathers said Tuesday.
All too often, prescription medications “go to the back of the line,” he said.
The nationwide promotional effort is sponsored by the nation’s pharmaceutical research companies, Jeff Gilbert, spokesman for the partnership, said during the Bangor stop.
The large orange bus in Maine this week is one of two painted to look like a giant pill bottle on wheels. The buses crisscross the United States each year promoting the PPA, which matches uninsured and financially struggling people with programs that provide prescription medicines free or at deep discounts.
Since he was diagnosed with diabetes, Mathers has become one of the nation’s leading speakers on living with and dealing with the condition. His enduring star power is having its intended effect helping spread the word about the partnership, Gilbert said.
“He’s just a magnet — everyone can relate to him. Everyone wants to relate to him,” Gilbert said.
The former child actor visited Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Houlton on Monday.
Tuesday brought him to Bangor, where signed dozens of publicity photos before heading for his next stop, Simone’s Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston.
He is slated to appear in Rumford and Bridgton today.
At each stop, Mathers spoke to interested members of the public about the effects of chronic disease.
Among the “Beaver” fans that saw him in Bangor were Lisa Noyes of Holden, her daughter Megan Noyes and a friend, Sheila Sandon of Bangor.
“He’s a cutie,” said Noyes, before boarding the bus for a peek at the computer stations.
“I honestly just came to meet him,” Sandon said.
Mathers signed 250 photos of himself as “The Beav” on Monday before his supply ran out. He had to have another 250 copies made late Monday night so he would have them on hand for Tuesday’s appearances, Gilbert said.
According to Gilbert, the partnership aims to raise awareness about patient assistance programs and the need to address the rising rates of chronic disease in the U.S.
Though many of the programs have existed for decades, the partnership made access to them easier by creating a computer database, he said.
Patients also can learn about new drugs being developed to fight such diseases as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and asthma.
“It’s kind of like one-stop shopping without the shopping,” Gilbert said.
To date, the partnership has helped more than 5 million people across America, including more than 21,000 patients in Maine, Gilbert said.
Since its launch in April 2005, the partnership’s bus tour has visited all 50 states and more than 2,000 cities to raise awareness about patient assistance programs.
The bus is equipped with 10 laptop computer stations and is staffed by trained specialists able to help uninsured patients quickly gain access to information on more than 475 patient assistance programs, including nearly 200 programs offered by pharmaceutical companies.
For more information about the partnership, visit its Web site at www.pparx.org or call 888-4PPA-NOW toll-free, where operators field calls in 150 languages.