BREWER, Maine — Dapper, charming, agile and quick-witted, George Davis Carlisle will turn 98 in a few days. His age doesn’t appear to be slowing him down much, and neither does his recent diagnosis of leukemia.
But both factors, along with the loss in 1997 of his wife, Betty, to cervical cancer, have contributed to his decision to make a major gift to Eastern Maine Medical Center’s CancerCare of Maine program. Next Monday, Carlisle will join family members, hospital officials and other well-wishers for the dedication of the George D. Carlisle Family Infusion Center at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center on Whiting Hill in Brewer.
The second-floor infusion center is an airy, day-lit area where up to 30 cancer patients at a time can receive infusions of blood, chemotherapeutic drugs or hydration. With its outdoor terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows offering sweeping views of nearby gardens and lawns and with Copeland Hill rising in the distance, the center is about as comfortable and attractive a place as one could wish for, given the life-and-death work that goes on there.
It’s a big change from the former home of CancerCare of Maine, which until December of 2009 was a warren of cramped treatment rooms and crowded waiting areas on an underground level of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. That’s where Betty used to go for chemotherapy and other care.
“I used to go down there with her and sit in the waiting room while she had her treatments,” Carlisle said Thursday. “I knew Bangor needed something better.”
Carlisle’s long life and rich personal and professional histories are grounded in his hometown of Bangor, where his father George T. Carlisle in 1924 founded the Prentiss & Carlisle land management company in partnership with timberland owner Henry Prentiss. Prentiss died in 1933, and George T. was named the company president the following year.
The company has a fascinating history which is detailed on its website, www.prenticeandcarlisle.com. It currently manages approximately 1.7 million acres of productive commercial timberland in Maine and other states as well as in Canada. It also provides consulting, marketing and operational support to large and small timber growers.
George D. went to work as a forester at Prentiss & Carlisle in 1938, several years after earning his degree in forestry from the University of Maine. He served the company in many capacities and became president in 1967.
In 1974, his son David M. Carlisle joined the firm as treasurer; he was named president in 1982 and is now the board chairman. Grandson Benjamin Carlisle recently returned to Bangor from Boston and is being groomed to lead the successful family business well into the 21st century.
“His job is everything,” Carlisle said of his grandson, pride evident in his voice.
In addition to his leadership of the family business, Carlisle served on the Bangor City Council from 1946 through 1948, including a term as mayor. He has served as president of the Bangor Rotary, as well as on the school board and as president of the University of Maine Foundation.
But on Thursday morning, Carlisle the civic leader and benefactor was just another patient. He piloted his wheeled walker vigorously through the hallways, stopping to banter with the nurses and other staff. They clearly dote on him, and the feeling appears to be mutual.
He stopped in a first-floor lab to have some blood drawn.
“She skis every day in the winter,” he told the Bangor Daily News, as phlebotomist Susan Trenholm prepared him for the needle stick.
Upstairs, waiting in the comfortable Harold Bouchard Family Living Room to learn the results of the blood test, he chatted with a volunteer.
“This lady graduated from high school with my daughter,” he confided.
Carlisle said he is proud of Bangor and of his family’s deep roots here. It is that pride, along with the memory of his wife’s illness, that made him decide two years ago to donate to the fundraiser for the Lafayette Family Cancer Center.
In combination with other donations from his family, that gift totaled about $35,000.
“I thought at the time that it was a pretty damn good contribution,” he said.
But more recently, grappling with a cancer diagnosis of his own and impressed with the welcoming and therapeutic new cancer center, Carlisle has decided to make a larger gift — an additional $500,000 — to support the facility and the services it provides. His decision was strengthened by the fact that his daughter Mary also is undergoing treatment for cancer.
“There is a great need. People come here from all over the place,” he said. “You like to save something for your old age, and you want to have something to leave for your children. But my children are giving people, and I want to be a leader.”
For more information about Cancer Care of Maine, visit www.emmc.org/CancerCare_of_Maine.aspx.