Lizotte completes final term as Piscataquis County commissioner

Posted Dec. 26, 2012, at 3:28 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Tom Lizotte has been a Connecticut Yankee holding court as a Piscataquis County commissioner since 2003. But that all changed on Dec. 18 as the three-term commissioner chaired his final meeting.

Lizotte and his fellow commissioners discussed a request to close the front snowmobile trail leading into Chesuncook Village, heard an update about a Shirley man’s concern about the town providing winter maintenance on his road, and finalized the $4,000,135 county and $1,483,000 unorganized territory budgets for 2013.

The meeting was no different for Lizotte than any previous ones except that it was his last. Lizotte did take a brief time to reflect on his service as a commissioner. He calculated to the day he assumed office after being appointed by Gov. John Baldacci to fill Ruell Cross’ unexpired term.

“Nine years, two months and one day,” Lizotte said with a smile.

His tenure as commissioner has been punctuated by the board’s successes, such as completing the $5 million county courthouse addition with the state paying for over 90 percent of it, and the failures, such as an ongoing battle with County Sheriff John Goggin over control of the department’s purse strings.

Last year, both parties considered filing lawsuits against the other.

But as Lizotte closed in on his final days as commissioner this year, he believed that Goggin and he had come to a mutual understanding about their duties and responsibilities as elected county officials.

“I think John and I have reached a level of coexistence,” Lizotte said.

When Lizotte became a county commissioner, he joked that his major goal was to escape the fate his two predecessors met. Both Cross and Gordon Andrews died in office. Three months later, Lizotte had his own brush with mortality. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

“I have survived both cancer and my tenure as a county commissioner. I decided not to run for re-election because I think it’s time for somebody new to serve,” Lizotte said. “I think after a while it’s good for somebody with a new perspective to take over.”

Lizotte became a county commissioner after serving six years on the Dover-Foxcroft Board of Selectmen.

His pursuit of elected political office in 1997 wasn’t planned. Lizotte was in his first year as vice president of marketing and community relations for Mayo Regional Hospital when a Dover-Foxcroft selectmen approached him about running for office.

“Nobody had taken out nomination papers with only three days remaining until the deadline. I had covered the Dover-Foxcroft selectmen during my tenure with The Piscataquis Observer, so I decided to give it a shot,” Lizotte said.

During his time as an elected official, his involvement in bringing state and county officials together to construct the county courthouse addition, the Thompson Free Library addition project, and the creation of the Penquis Higher Education Center in Dover-Foxcroft were among his major accomplishments.

“Those are the things I’m the proudest of as an elected official,” Lizotte said. “All of those things showed what can happen when people get together and identify the community’s needs and work together in making it a reality.”

Lizotte first came to Dover-Foxcroft in 1972 when he was dating his wife, Leslie (Hall) Lizotte. The couple met as college students while working at the Lakewood Inn in Madison. Lizotte was an English major at Colby College in Waterville. Leslie was a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

They were married in 1974. Lizotte began a 20-year career working as a reporter and sports editor at the Central Maine Morning Sentinel in Waterville. He entered journalism because he said he always liked to ask questions and had a natural curiosity.

As a sports editor, Lizotte had his own column and covered the most notable high school sports teams in the Kennebec Valley region. He covered Madison High School’s undefeated season in 1982 led by quarterback Bobby Wilder, who went on to play for the University of Maine and now is the head coach at Old Dominion in Virginia.

He also covered Lawrence High School player and coach Mike McGee. Lizotte has a distinct memory of the February 1986 night in the Class A Eastern Maine final when McGee’s Bulldogs snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

“Waterville had beaten Lawrence twice during the regular season, which included a 57-point blowout win. They appeared to be on the verge of another win, leading with just a few minutes remaining,” Lizotte said. “I can still see the Waterville fans moving off the bleachers and closer to court singing, ‘Hey Na-Na-Na,’ Then all of a sudden, Waterville misses a couple of foul shots, makes some turnovers and Lawrence ends up winning the game. It was nights like those I thought I’m a 30-something-year-old guy getting paid to watch basketball. This is a pretty cool way to make a living.”

Being a sports reporter was well-suited for a boy growing up in Winsted, Conn., in the 1960s whose heroes were athletes. Lizotte was a Boston Celtics and St. Louis Cardinals fan. His hometown was right on the border between Red Sox Nation and Yankee Country in southern New England.

Lizotte didn’t seem to have a problem rooting for the Boston Celtics, who won 11 out of 13 World Championships during the 1960s, but cheering for the Bronx Bombers was another story.

“The Red Sox were really horrendous during those times, so I couldn’t really root for them. The Yankees were the dominant team, but rooting for them is like rooting for General Motors. My baseball team was the Cardinals. My boyhood idols were Bob Gibson and Lou Brock and they won two World Series in the 1960s, including one against the Yankees.”

In 1995, Lizotte moved to his wife’s hometown of Dover-Foxcroft to work as the managing editor for the Piscataquis Observer. In 1996, he took the same position with The Moosehead Messenger.

When he later moved on to work for Mayo Regional Hospital, Lizotte was encouraged by CEO Ralph Gabarro to join various civic organizations.

“As the county’s largest employer, the hospital wants us to contribute to the community. That’s why I serve on so many boards,” Lizotte said.

Even though Lizotte is leaving elected public office, he will continue to serve as chairman of Eastern Maine Development Corp., the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council and Penquis.

Lizotte may have grown up in Connecticut, but he does have Maine roots. His father lived in Fort Kent before moving to work for a defense contractor. His family spent several summer vacations in Maine when he was a boy. He returned permanently to Maine in 1970, when he began his freshman year of college.

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