Maine legislative leaders, businessmen, ‘Billboard Law’ pioneer among 2011 deaths

Posted Dec. 31, 2011, at 12:26 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 31, 2011, at 10:37 p.m.

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Dan Gwadosky
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Dan Gwadosky
Joseph Sewall
Joseph Sewall
Rev. Robert Carlson
Rev. Robert Carlson

AUGUSTA, Maine — Prominent businessmen, legislative leaders and the leading force behind the state’s pioneering “billboard law” are among the Mainers or those with strong Maine ties who died in 2011.

Former Senate President Joseph Sewall and House Speaker Dan Gwadosky, who went on to serve as secretary of state, were perhaps best-known among state government leaders who died. Another former legislator, Marion Fuller Brown, who pushed the law that removed billboards from Maine roadways more than three decades ago, also died during the year, as did notable leaders of Maine dairy, vending machines, energy, newspaper and ice cream businesses.

Maine’s 2011 deaths included:

William F. Kearns Jr., 89, a former Vermont newspaperman who went on to serve six governors in Vermont and Maine, died Jan. 2 in Keene, N.H. After his newspaper career, Kearns worked in administrative posts for five Vermont governors from the 1950s through the 1970s and for Maine Gov. Kenneth Curtis as commissioner of Mental Health and Corrections.

Stanley Taylor Bennett II, 64, who built Oakhurst Dairy into the largest independent dairy farm in Maine, died Feb. 23 of pancreatic cancer in Scarborough. Bennett joined a family business founded by his grandfather soon after graduating from Tufts University, and became president in 1983 and chairman in 1999.

Edward H. Harte, 88, an heir to his family’s Texas-based newspaper empire, Harte-Hanks Newspapers, died May 18 in a retirement community outside Portland. A philanthropist, Harte donated $46 million to endow the Harte Research Institute of Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The institute was at the forefront of the emergency response to rescue marine life after the BP oil spill a year ago.

Marion Fuller Brown, 94, who spearheaded a legislative effort that removed billboards from Maine roadways, died June 3 at her home in York. As a Republican representative, Brown was the driving force behind Maine’s billboard ban 34 years ago. Vermont, Hawaii and Alaska are the only other states that ban roadside billboards.

Gene McDaniels, 76, a singer and songwriter who became a star in the 1960s with his Top 40 hits, died July 29 at his home in Kittery. McDaniels became a star in the early ’60s with “Tower of Strength,” ”A Hundred Pounds of Clay,” ”Point of No Return” and other hits. He later earned success as a songwriter with songs that were recorded by singers including Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Johnny Mathis and Ray Charles.

His best-known song, “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” was originally recorded by Roberta Flack.

Dan A. Gwadosky, 57, a former Maine House speaker and secretary of state who later served as director of state liquor and lottery operations, died Aug. 10 of pancreatic cancer. Gwadosky served 18 years in the House of Representatives, the last four from 1993 to 1996 as speaker. He was secretary of state of Maine from 1997 to 2005 and later headed the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

The Rev. Robert Carlson, 68, a well-known health care advocate in the Bangor area, died Nov. 13 of an apparent suicide in Prospect.

Joseph Sewall, 89, former Republican president of the Maine Senate and a longtime businessman and civic leader, died Nov. 23 in Bangor. Born and raised in Old Town, Sewall took over a forestry and surveying business started by his grandfather and great-uncle, after serving in the Navy during World War II. He was elected to the Maine Senate in 1967 and served as Senate president from 1975 to 1982, making him one of Maine’s longest-serving Senate presidents.

Charles “Stick” Stickney, 89, of Yarmouth, a Maine business icon and philanthropist, died Dec. 3 following a fall at home in Yarmouth. Also a veteran of World War II, Stickney led the Deering Ice Cream Corp. that his father had owned, and at one point expanded to 20 locations and nearly 500 employees.

Donald Allen, 74, who served as head of Maine’s corrections system for 17 years under three governors until his retirement in 1995, died Dec. 7 at home in Casco. Allen was head of the state’s corrections system when it became a standalone department.

Robert Foster, 77, founder and owner of R.H. Foster Energy of Portland, died Dec. 8 in Portland. The company he started in 1959 expanded to include commercial, wholesale and retail heating oil, diesel and gasoline accounts. Foster served as its president until retirement and continued to serve as board chairman. In 1984, he founded Maine Wild Blueberry Co. in Machias, a blueberry processing plant, and sold it to Oxford Frozen Foods in 1997.

David Astor, 92, creator of Maine’s version of “American Bandstand,” a teenage dance television show that appeared in 1956 and aired for 16 years on Portland stations, died Dec. 10 in Portland. A World War II Marine Corps veteran, Astor served in the Pacific theater and was discharged in 1945 after receiving a number of citations and commendations.

Joseph Alfred “Fred” Boucher, 88, of Fairfield, founder of Fred’s Coffee, Fred’s Vending and Fred’s Beverage, died Dec. 15 in Oakland. With $300, Boucher bought 15 peanut vending machines in 1951 that were set up in Waterville-area gas stations. His business blossomed into three Oakland-based enterprises providing products and services in more than 5,000 locations in Maine and New Hampshire.

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