PITTSFIELD, Maine — The oldest memory Peter Vigue has of Ival “Bud” Cianchette, who died Thursday at age 83, is Cianchette’s belt buckle.
Vigue was a 9-year-old newspaper delivery boy at the time, and the Cianchettes were on his route. Cianchette’s wife, Priscilla, normally was the person who paid the bill, but on that fateful Sunday night, it was the towering Cianchette and his belt buckle that answered the door.
Cianchette, whom Vigue, while doing his route, had seen many times leaving for work at 5 a.m., invited the boy inside.
“He paid me and gave me a tip and told me to keep up the good work,” said Vigue, who today is the president, CEO and chairman of Cianbro Corp., the vaunted construction firm that Bud Cianchette and his three brothers built out of nothing. “I just remember that he made me feel special,” said Vigue.
Making people feel special was not just Bud Cianchette’s gift, according to people who knew and loved him. It was part of the way he accomplished so much in his lifetime.
“He left a mark on everything he ever touched,” said Vigue. “People responded to him because of his moral and ethical behavior. Nothing he did was about self-interest. It was always about doing what was good for everybody.”
Bud Cianchette was one of three brothers who pooled their savings after returning from World War II to create Cianchette Bros. Inc., the forerunner of Cianbro Corp. Through the 1960s, with Bud Cianchette as its president, the Pittsfield-based company grew from a shoestring operation to a powerhouse in the construction field in Maine and beyond. Today Cianbro Corp. employs 2,500 people and has contracts that average a total of more than $450 million annually.
“It’s one of those great stories about a family getting together and starting a company,” said Gov. John Baldacci on Friday. “Bud was a larger-than-life character. You got a sense that this big, rugged guy could be friendly and at the same time get things done. You got the sense that you could talk about problems and he’d come up with solutions.”
In so doing, Cianchette established himself as an “icon” in the construction industry in Maine and beyond, said John O’Dea, chief executive officer for Associated General Contractors of Maine. Cianchette managed to be “tough and forceful” while maintaining a congenial air, according to O’Dea.
“He was very engaging,” said O’Dea. “He was a leader and could take a room of people with him. When Bud leaned in on something there was no question where he stood.”
That’s part of the reason Cianchette was so effective as a member of Associated General Contractors of Maine and later as president of the organization’s national arm in the early 1980s, said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of Associated General Contractors.
“I sat in hundreds of meetings with Bud through the years, and he never spoke unless he needed to,” said Sandherr. “When Bud raised his hand to speak, people leaned forward to listen. He had a commanding presence in any room.”
Al Bancroft of Bancroft Contracting Corp. of South Paris has known Bud Cianchette since 1960 when they became neighbors in Pittsfield. Bancroft, like others interviewed for this story, said Cianchette was “all business” most of the time, but had a wry sense of humor. Bancroft was doing yardwork one day when Cianchette arrived driving a Cadillac.
“He said ‘I want to take you for a ride to show you something,’” recalled Bancroft. “I said ‘Jeez, Bud, I’m awful dirty.’ He just said ‘Get in. Dirt’s what paid for this thing.’”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also counts Cianchette as a longtime friend and supporter. Whenever they met, Cianchette wanted to talk about politics and the economy. That was what happened in an airport waiting room in May 2007. Collins expected Cianchette to deliver a donation that had been collected by a business group.
“He sat next to me and we had a cup of coffee,” recalled Collins. “We talked about big business issues and legislation at the federal level. At the end of it he handed me an envelope.”
Collins opened the envelope during her flight and was surprised to see that in addition to the check from the business group, Cianchette had included a personal donation of $1,000.
“He never mentioned he was making a personal contribution,” said Collins. “He was always quiet about that sort of thing.”
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said in a press release that Cianchette is an example of how far integrity and self-reliance can bring a person.
“Bud personified the entrepreneurship and ingenuity that are the foundation of business in Maine and America,” said Snowe.
Peter Cianchette, Bud’s son and the Republican nominee for governor in 2002, said there are scores of stories about how his father connected with people.
“My father loved people,” said Cianchette. “He found the good in everyone whether it was a family member or someone who worked in his company. He had a special ability to get to know everybody.”
Even though he had many commitments, Bud Cianchette always found time to spend with his family on fishing trips, skiing excursions and at after-school ballgames.
“When I look back on that now, I wonder how in the world did he do so much,” said Peter Cianchette.
In the final months of his life, Bud Cianchette knew his time was short. He hinted as much during a celebration for the company’s 60th anniversary last month in Pittsfield.
“In my obituary, if anyone writes one, it should say, ‘The luckiest man in the world just left us,’” said Cianchette to some 400 Cianbro employees. “You can’t feel sorry for me. If all of you are as lucky as I’ve been, you’re just going to have a great life because I certainly have.”