I don’t remember the first time I met Game Warden Doug Tibbetts. I do know that I was a knee-high sprout and that he was a tall, handsome guy in uniform who would tease me unmercifully and that my mother seemed to like him OK.
I do know that I met him in the halls of the old Newport District Court, which at the time was on the third floor of the old Depositer’s Trust Bank building on Main Street. I spent a lot of time there because my mother was the clerk of courts.
I guess, even in those days, that the bench-lined halls of that courthouse were considered the “halls of justice” in our community.
There was really nothing special about me, except that I came from a single-parent home, which in the 1960s and 1970s was much more unusual than it is today.
But each day on my way home from Newport Elementary School I would stop in at the old bank building and take the elevator up to the third floor to see my mother in the clerk’s office. I’m pretty sure it was the only building in Newport that had an elevator and somehow that made me feel just a little special.
My mother would give me some change that would allow me to head off to Johnny Foster’s store across the street to buy a soda and a bag of chips.
Any number of town police officers or state troopers might be at the courthouse when I arrived and if they were there I could count on just a little special attention or teasing.
Since most of them were men and since I was a little girl in an all-female household, I tended to relish that attention.
Just behind the clerk’s office was the judge’s chambers. Most of the time that door was closed. Court was held only once a week, meaning that’s the day the judge sat and anyone with business before him in Greater Newport would show up to hear their judgments and pay fines.
It was the only day of the week when lots of people lined the hallways, but for me and my sisters it most importantly meant that our mother may be late getting home and hence dinner would be later than usual.
I was a baton twirler and during the winter months we were faced with the dilemma of where I would practice. The ceilings of our house did not accommodate a decent practice.
And so, as a way-too-skinny adolescent, I spent a couple of afternoons a week practicing my “toss turn arounds” in the high-ceilinged judge’s chambers at the Newport District Court.
Of course I was sworn to secrecy and threatened within an inch of my life to not touch one single thing in the posh office.
My mother would go on to serve as District Court clerk for about 35 years, moving eventually to a new, more modern courthouse.
I would go on to spend a great deal of my adult career hanging out in Bangor courthouses covering countless criminal and civil trials.
I would also grow to cover stories that involved Warden Doug Tibbetts. Some he liked all right. Others he did not. He was quick to let me know the difference. He once brought me to tears when he admonished me for an article he felt I had reported incorrectly.
Tibbetts was a by-the-book sort of warden with little tolerance for hunters or fishermen who would take more than their share. He was not well-loved by all.
When my mother and her co-worker Judy McKenzie retired a few years back, Tibbetts proved that at least a part of him was nothing more than a marshmallow. He choked up and got teary-eyed as he recalled decades worth of stories and touted his respect for the two Newport clerks whom had simply done their jobs well for 35 years.
I’m quite sure that there are no scrawny adolescents practicing baton in a judge’s chamber today. Times have changed as they must and Tibbetts’ retirement is a testament to that.
I no longer spend most of my days hanging out in the halls of old courthouses and soon the Penobscot County courthouse where I spent so many of those hours will be quiet as business moves to the new facility on Exchange Street.
Times have been changing for quite awhile now, but somehow reading of Tibbetts’ retirement this week and watching the progress on the new courthouse reminded me that indeed the baton has been passed.