BATH, Maine — I’ve met thousands of people covering Maine and its politics over the years but none of them personified the way life should be more than Ed Pert.
Front Street, Bath, Maine, where Ed spent uncountable days making his rounds, the State House and the world at large will never be the same. Ed died Friday at age 83, leaving thousands of his friends and family heartbroken over the loss of one of the finest gentlemen to proudly call Maine home.
If you’re looking for an unbiased report on Ed’s life, move along. Like so many others, I counted him as a friend and besides, you won’t find anyone with a sour word to say about Ed Pert.
I met and came to know him during his retirement. My former office on Front Street in Bath, where I was a reporter for The Times Record, was one of Ed’s daily stops. More often than not, he came with roasted peanuts, french fries or doughnuts that he’d just driven all the way to Rockland or Falmouth or Augusta to buy.
As foodies go, Ed was a champion and 100 miles on the odometer from his bungalow in Georgetown to the best doughnut in the land was a meager price to pay. His greeting was always the same:
“Hiya fella!” he’d say, arms open for a hug and smile as wide as heaven. “Good to see you!”
I wasn’t the only one, not by a longshot. “I’m writing about Ed,” I said Monday in the shops and on the sidewalks of downtown Bath, and that was all I had to say.
“Georgetown and Bath have certainly lost a lot,” said Kristen Rice of Georgetown, who has known Pert for more than 20 years. “He was just a person in town who you think is always going to be there.”
“He was a dear, dear man,” said Bath City Clerk Mary White. “He looked for the best in everyone.”
“When we lost Ed, we lost one of the good ones,” said Joe Black, a long-time Renys employee.
When respect was king
Ed Pert, the jovial traveler with his epic sweet tooth, was far removed from Ed Pert, the titan from the Maine Legislature who served as an influential Senate secretary and clerk of the House of Representatives for 20 years. He brought the same compassion for humanity to that job as he did to everything else, according to Democratic Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake, whose decades as speaker of the House overlapped with Pert’s service aside the House lectern.
Under Pert and Martin, State House culture saw major changes, ranging from banning smoking to barring lobbyists from being in the House chamber during sessions. Despite Pert’s many accomplishments, Martin remembers him best as a tempering force.
“We disagreed in the Legislature like we do now but we were never at one another’s throat, like the way things are today,” said Martin. “Ed was in that era. I’ve seen both sides and I wish we could go back.”
Mal Leary, a long-time State House reporter who now covers politics for Maine Public Broadcasting Network, said Pert ruled the House as a stickler for the details yet managed to do it with fairness and compassion. Once, according to Leary, Martin was angry at former Bangor Daily News political reporter John Day over an article and Martin banned Day from the House floor.
“Several of us went to Ed and said ‘can you talk to John? This is not fair,’” said Leary. “Ed said ‘yeah, you’re absolutely right.’ The next day, John Martin rescinded his ban of John Day on the floor.”
Leary said Pert was of an era where respect was king, even between dueling political parties.
“He was always willing to sit down and talk,” said Leary. “He was able to bring a balance to it, maintaining the integrity and decorum of the chamber.”
May Ross Coffin’s time as secretary of the Senate overlapped with Pert’s tenure in the House. She was a Republican and Pert was a Democrat, which she said led to some disagreements with him in the early years. However, the two eventually became close friends and as he often did with countless friends, he called her every couple of weeks for years. The conversation was typically short, just long enough for Pert to check in.
“We didn’t discuss politics and over the years I got to where I loved Ed Pert,” said Coffin. “The first time that he said he loved me it kind of took me, but I kind of expected it after that. People in politics today could learn a lot from Ed Pert.”
Pert traveled all over Maine and once had a pristine Honda sedan with more than 200,000 miles on it. In recent years, though, Pert’s travels slowed down as he aged. He had increasing problems with his memory and he knew it.
“He used to go Down East a lot and it really bothered me when he stopped going,” said Coffin.
There’s so much more to Ed. He was a journalist, a soldier, a wedding officiant, a representative, a selectman and a lifelong Democrat. He loved circuses (the kind with tents, not political ones). He never married or had children but built a legion of familial friendships. I was in awe of his accomplishments and he taught me a lot about the right way to live.
The community will celebrate Ed’s life on Friday with visiting hours from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Chocolate Church in Bath, according to his obituary. A celebration of his life begins at 6 p.m.
About a year ago, I asked Ed if he’d let me write a story about him because I thought telling the world about Ed would make it better. He demurred; he never wanted the spotlight shone on him. I mentioned the possibility a few more times but as dementia took hold, he told me one day that he just couldn’t pull his thoughts together enough for an interview.
“We don’t need an interview,” I said. “Let’s go on tour so you can show me some of your favorite spots. I’ll drive.”
He said he’d think about it. One evening, about a month ago, the phone rang. It was Ed.
“Let’s go on that ride,” he said. “I’d like that.”
We’ll do it after the election, I thought, when things calm down at work. Therein lies a final bit of wisdom Ed gave me, one which will haunt me for the rest of my days: When it comes to your loved ones, don’t wait.