3 who spoke their minds

Posted March 06, 2009, at 5:50 p.m.

Within the space of five recent days, three prominent Maine residents known for their unpretentiousness, straight talk and civic-mindedness failed to make it over March Hill, as old-timers put it when death claims a soul in late winter.

Passing to their heavenly reward were Roosevelt Susi of Pittsfield, Harrison Richardson of Gorham and Frieda Miller of Bangor, memorable personalities all.

Mrs. Miller, 96, the plain-spoken founder of what eventually became Miller Drug on State Street, died this past Sunday. At a crowded funeral Tuesday she was eulogized as “a woman of valor.”

“When parents of a sick child would come into the store and needed medicine but couldn’t pay for it, Frieda and [husband] Abe’s response would be ‘Take the medicine now and pay us for it when you have the money,”’ Bangor lawyer Berney Kubetz told mourners.

Rosie Susi, 89, son of an Italian immigrant who helped build railroads in northern Maine in the 1900s, was named in honor of Teddy Roosevelt, a frequent Maine visitor whom Susi’s father had met. Rosie died on Feb. 25, followed by Richardson, 79, the next day.

Both men, Republicans, were majority leaders of the Maine House of Representatives during impressive legislative careers. Each had a resume of public service as long as your arm, and both were former military officers who served their country in time of war.

Over his career, Susi was involved in the automobile, lumber and construction businesses and raised and raced harness horses. Richardson was a veteran trial lawyer. Susi served on the founding board of Unity College. Richardson, a 1953 All-New England football player at the University of Maine, was a former chairman of his alma mater’s board of trustees. Susi was a gentle giant of a man with a quiet sense of humor. Richardson was an extrovert’s extrovert whose appreciation for the ludicrous often was anything but subtle, as I well remember from covering the Legislature when he cut a colorful swath through that august body.

Exhibit A would be a comical confrontation he had with Jim Erwin, a former Maine attorney general who later would narrowly defeat Richardson in the 1974 Republican gubernatorial primary election. Never best buddies, the two enjoyed aggravating one another.

After Erwin had been quoted in the newspaper as saying that Richardson was unduly uptight over some perceived slight and needed to get a grip on things, Richardson approached Erwin in a crowded rotunda of the State House.

“I AM NOT UPTIGHT,” he screamed in Erwin’s face before turning on his heel and marching off, leaving a baffled audience to wonder what on earth that dustup might have been all about. The performance was vintage Richardson, whose memorial service is this weekend at Portland.

Because obituaries recount the lives of those who have passed on, they often contain a wealth of information that can fascinate readers who may never have known the deceased to the extent they might have known quasi-public figures such as Susi, Richardson and Mrs. Miller.

I never knew Herman Pelletier, a former Van Buren police chief, for example. But after reading his obituary in Thursday’s newspaper I wished I had. Among other things, I learned that the 53-year-old Army veteran who enjoyed cooking for his loved ones was a big fan of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, “even daring to wear one of their jerseys once at a Bruins hockey game.” Sounds like my kind of guy.

I’m sorry, too, that I never knew 86-year-old Harold Crane of Bangor, who died Wednesday. Mr. Crane spent half his life as a valued employee of the Bangor Water District, which named a booster station in his honor. His obituary in the Thursday paper reported that in his retirement Crane “enjoyed puttering around the house, using his handyman skills and helping the television judges render their decisions during the afternoon lineup.” Who among the restless male retiree crowd can’t relate to that in this endless winter of our discontent?

Such are the touches of humanity that convey to readers a real sense of who the deceased was. Surveys have shown that the obituary pages consistently rank among the more popular sections of the newspaper. It’s not difficult to understand why.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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