BANGOR, Maine — Though the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department has completed its investigation into the death of the Rev. Robert T. Carlson, Maine State Police are continuing to look into allegations of sex abuse against the longtime religious and civic leader who committed suicide on Nov. 13.
Carlson reportedly left no note before his death, and many questions remain about the man who did so much good for and was trusted in turn by the Greater Bangor community. Among them are questions about his training and background, and whether some claims were exaggerated or fabricated.
Sarah Dubay, director of executive services for Penobscot Community Health Care — Carlson’s final employer — provided the BDN with a biography that she said was drafted by Carlson himself.
When asked about particular claims in the biography and whether anyone at PCHC checked into them before or during Carlson’s employment, Dubay said she doubted it.
“He was Rev. Carlson. He was larger than life,” she said.
One of Carlson’s claims was that he completed graduate studies at the New York Theological Seminary. The seminary’s president, Dale Irvin, said that there are no records that a Robert T. Carlson took courses, much less graduated from the well-known seminary or its affiliates.
In a 1983 story in the Bangor Daily News, Carlson said he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Maryland.
Officials with the University of Maryland said they have no record of a Robert T. Carlson graduating from any of the school’s affiliated campuses. He did take courses at the University of Maryland’s University College in the 1960s, but did not earn a degree, according to Chip Cassano, the school’s director of public relations.
Carlson claimed in that same 1983 story that he received theological training at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Mass., now known as the Episcopal Divinity School.
Officials at the Cambridge divinity school said they have no record that a Robert T. Carlson received a degree or was an alumnus.
Another line in Carlson’s biography indicated that he was a “fellow” for the Ecumenical Institute of Boston.
A volunteer there, Elsa Bengal, searched the records and mailing lists she had access to and never came across the name Robert T. Carlson. Bengal also said the term “fellow” did not show up anywhere in the Ecumenical Institute’s organizational structure over the years.
Does it matter that he didn’t have the credentials he claimed?
Kenneth Schmidt, CEO of PCHC, said Carlson was hired based on his status in the community and his commitment to providing quality health care for the less fortunate. He said there was never a need to check Carlson’s credentials because his work and his reputation spoke for him.
Asked whether Carlson’s past mattered, Schmidt said: “It mattered very much. But not on some piece of paper.”
Carlson’s list of accomplishments is long.
For example, the Hope House, where recovering alcoholics and drug addicts go to mend their bodies, was one of the reverend’s early ideas. Bangor needed a place where those troubled souls could rid themselves of addiction; a place where they could start over.
He helped grow the East Orrington Congregational Church from a tiny house of worship in a community southwest of Bangor to a sanctuary for hundreds every Sunday who came to hear the gregarious man preach the word of God.
Penobscot Community Health Care, a fledgling nonprofit health clinic for Bangor’s indigent, grew into one of the man’s crowning achievements. Like many, Carlson understood that the poor needed care, too. Like few, he helped find a way to deliver that care.
Dennis Marble, director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, knew Carlson for many years but had crossed paths with him more often in the six years since Carlson joined PCHC.
Marble said it’s easier for the community to see Carlson as black or white, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. He echoed the words of Dubay at PCHC that Carlson was larger than life and said he wasn’t surprised that Carlson avoided scrutiny.
Marble said he’s struggling with the right words to express his feelings.
“What’s the saying? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Marble said. “I know he did a lot of good for a lot of people over a long period of time. Is that all tainted now? I don’t know.”
BDN reporter Nick McCrea and editor Susan Young provided research for this story.