Irving Silverman, 92, is legally blind, but that doesn’t mean he can’t sense his wife in the lighthouse building he owns in Bernard.
Nancy Neale Silverman died 10 years ago at the age of 83. She was the reason, he said, that he turned the building on the coast of Mount Desert Island into a place to marry couples. As a notary public, he has performed 34 wedding ceremonies over eight years.
“Her spirit is in that building,” he said.
But Silverman is now not allowed to be a notary public because he is no longer a resident of Maine. Though he owns property in Maine, lived on Mount Desert for 40 years and in the state for 55, he now spends 10 months a year at a retirement home in Massachusetts where he can be closer to family.
State law requires a notary public to be a full-time resident. Silverman asked for an exemption, but it would be illegal under current law, a spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of State said.
It’s worth examining whether a change in the law would benefit Mainers. Silverman is in a unique position: The secretary of state’s office rarely gets requests from non-Maine residents to be able to perform marriages. But more information might determine there’s not only a personal benefit for Silverman but a social and economic one for the state.
Silverman said dozens of people called him after an article about his situation was published by the Bangor Daily News. Some of the callers suggested he get ordained online, and it’s something he’s considering. But Silverman, who is Jewish, said he would like the law to be changed because it’s not just a problem for himself but potentially others in the future.
The matter is not one of money. When he was paid he gave it to a good cause — primarily hospice centers, he said. His goal is to provide a personalized marriage ceremony for people in honor of Nancy; he starts each service by saying he is performing it in tribute to his loving wife. If the couples agree, he also enrolls them in an alumni association of sorts in order to keep in touch.
“Nothing should be fixed in concrete if it is a benefit to the community,” he said.
In 2009 he required surgery on a brain tumor but had previously committed to doing a wedding ceremony. So he arranged for a local friend and minister to be present at the lighthouse, and he performed the ceremony through video technology, while in a rehabilitation center.
“I want to live a fulfilling life to be able to continue doing good for society and my community and my extended family. All of the people that I marry are part of my extended family,” he said.
He has been lucky in love, saying he was fortunate to have two happy marriages. His first wife died 60 years ago, at the age of 35.
Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, said changing the law would involve study, and he’s right. It’s worth pursuing the matter. Allowing Silverman to marry people in a unique place on Bass Harbor benefits more than Silverman. It creates meaning for couples getting married and gives significance to the location, keeping people coming back.
It would also be a kind gesture to honor the memory of Nancy — the inspiration in the first place.