BREWER, Maine — Richard P. Ruhlin Sr. may have been born in Bangor and lived his life in Brewer but he was home when on the Penobscot River or another waterway with a fishing rod in his hands.
Ruhlin — a respected public servant for Brewer and protector of the Penobscot River and the fish who live in its currents — died on Wednesday after a short illness.
He was 75.
“The things he has done to improve the quality of the river and his work with salmon restoration in Maine” are his crowning accomplishments, longtime friend Charles “Dusty” Fisher said Thursday. “He was an avid salmon fisherman. He was also extremely proud of his family.”
The lifelong environmentalist had been involved for decades in restoring the Penobscot River to its former glory, former Gov. John Baldacci said Thursday.
“He was very, very dedicated to the river,” he said of his longtime family friend. “Ruhlin played a large part in that river getting cleaned up and back in its place as one of the most historic rivers in the United States.”
Baldacci said he remembers, “just like it was yesterday,” watching Ruhlin decades ago get down on his knees on a riverside dock to check the salmon stocks.
“He was of my father’s generation — their ethics, principles, their communities were the most important things in their lives and they set a wonderful example.” Baldacci said.
Ruhlin served five terms as a state representative for Brewer, three terms as a state senator, and was a Brewer City Council member for nearly a decade, twice serving as mayor.
“Dick was my mentor when I first got to Augusta and was very helpful in providing me with a way through the maze of legislation and getting things done — getting things done in the right way,” said Fisher, who served five terms in the Maine Legislature.
“He could be a very intimidating figure there,” his longtime friend said. “He knew the ropes. He knew the rules and he had a way of getting things done.”
Brewer City Manager Steve Bost, who also served with Ruhlin in the Maine Legislature, said he was a “very smart, vigorous and relentless legislator” when pursuing something he supported.
“When he got hold of an issue that was important to him, he stayed with it until the end,” Bost said. “He was a fellow who always did his homework. He didn’t speak very often on the House floor, but when he spoke people listened. He earned the respect of members on both sides of the aisle.”
Ruhlin was born on Aug. 31, 1936, and after graduating from Bangor High School in 1954, he went west to study history and government at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He enlisted in the Maine Air National Guard on his return and served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves until honorably discharged in October 1961.
The next month, he married Regina T. Murphy “and moved across the river to Brewer where he became a dedicated supporter of the city for the next 51 years,” his obituary in the Bangor Daily News states. The couple had six children, a dozen grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
A former president of the Penobscot, Eddington and Veazie salmon clubs, Ruhlin also was a decade-long member of the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission and held numerous posts with the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross, United Way, Friends of the Penobscot River and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
“It’s a tremendous loss to the city,” Brewer Mayor Jerry Goss said. “He was a big contributor to what Brewer is and where we’ve been.”
Councilor Larry Doughty said he first met Ruhlin when the latter was leading a charge to put fluoride in the city’s drinking water.
“He’s always been a pretty active guy,” Doughty said. “He was always doing something to help somebody.”
Ruhlin was a Brewer city councilor for three terms, 1966-68, 1972-74 and 1982-84.
“Dick was a guy who felt community service was very important,” Fisher said. “He loved Brewer and he was very dedicated to his family and his constituents. He taught me a lot of lessons.”
Visiting hours are 4-7 p.m. Saturday at Brookings-Smith Funeral Services, 133 Center St. in Bangor, and his funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the funeral home with the Rev. Dr. James L. Haddix of All Souls Church officiating.