Benefit dinner for Don Winslow filled with laughs, support for his battle with lung cancer

Posted March 16, 2014, at 1:23 p.m.
Last modified March 17, 2014, at 1:41 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — There were stories upon stories — some true, some partially true — about former Bangor Police Chief Don Winslow’s escapades over his long career that filled the crowded banquet room with warm-hearted laughter and filled his heart with support.

“Standing here, I am reminded of just how blessed I am,” Winslow said, surrounded by hundreds of family, friends and community members who gathered Saturday evening for a benefit dinner held in his honor. “The support system my family and I have is incredible.”

Winslow retired as police chief five years ago and earlier this year announced he was running for Penobscot County Sheriff. Shortly afterward, he learned the cancer that attacked his face and neck three years ago was back, and it was back with a vengeance, attacking his lungs.

In February, he announced his diagnosis and withdrew from the sheriff’s race.

“We’re all here to support a great cause — a great guy,” Bangor police Officer Ed Mercier said of Winslow, who hired him in 1997. “He’s just a genuinely nice guy. Both he and his wife, Dora, are wonderful people.”

As people finished up their meals, radio personality Mike Elliott ran into Jeff’s Catering with co-host George Hale’s face on his cellphone. Hale was Skyping in from Florida.

“I parked illegally. Don’t tell the fuzz,” Elliott joked to the room filled with police officers, some in uniform.

Retired WABI-TV anchorman Don Colson; University of Maine police Officer Bob Welch and Lt. Alan Storman; Bangor Daily News columnist Renee Ordway; former Bangor police Chief Ron Gastia; domestic violence educator Francine Stark; Bangor police Lt. Paul Edwards; Winslow’s daughter, Melissa, and others told stories at the gathering.

Dora Winslow also said a few words in what she called her “rebuttal” after the stage emptied, making people laugh through stories about her husband getting his tractor stuck in the mud and her use of the phrase “dag nab it.”

Before the event, she said her husband’s recent battle with cancer has reminded her that believing in miracles has worked in the past.

“We went through this years ago, and I convinced him then and we got through it,” she said. “I’ve got to convince him again.”

Ron Gastia said he, Winslow and Bruce Buchanan were a trio of friends who began their public service careers wearing red at Old Town Fire Department and ended wearing blue at Bangor Police Department.

“The three of us have worked, played and supported each other through all these years,” Gastia said, adding later, “We all share the same family.”

Gastia told stories of the trio playing pranks on each other over the years, including when Winslow “left on his honeymoon with Bucky hiding in his back of his pickup,” mixed with heartwarming stories of him reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to his daughters each Christmas Eve or his years supporting the Special Olympic’s Torch Run.

At one point, Gastia brought Special Olympic athlete Chris Oster of Bangor up on stage and spoke about how his gold medal was “a symbol of overcoming adversity, overcoming obstacles,” and then Oster took off the medal and presented it to Winslow.

“Don has been an inspiration to many people and to some has been a hero,” Gastia said in his ending. “I love you, man.”

Because Winslow’s cancer is in his lungs, his options are very limited. He told those gathered that he hasn’t given up. He then thanked his wife for always standing beside him, his daughters for making him proud, and event organizer Corenna O’Brien, his one-time campaign manager, for hosting the event.

O’Brien said the “An Evening With Don Winslow” event sold out in week and she could have sold hundreds of more tickets, because Winslow touched so many people’s lives in a positive way.

The event was so successful that Winslow pointed at O’Brien and told the crowd that, “she would have won that election for me, even if I was dead,” which got a round of laughter from the crowd.

“I have my biological family, I have my family by marriage, my police department family, my Lamoine camping family, my fire department family, my FBI Academy family, my Sebec Lake family, and an extended family and circle of friends who are second to none,” Winslow said, just before leaving the stage. “I also have a remarkable healthcare team. I could have chosen to be treated in Boston as part of a clinical trial, but I chose to stay close to home so I could be greeted with hugs [and] we know each other’s names when I go for treatment.”



A previous version of this story requires correction. Radio personality Mike Elliott made a joke about parking illegally, which was incorrectly attributed to Ric Tyler.