Veteran Bangor Daily News political reporter Christopher Cousins died Wednesday morning of a heart attack.
“Maine lost an amazing journalist today. Chris intuitively understood Maine, its politics and its people in a way that benefited everything he covered and every journalist he worked with,” said Dan MacLeod, managing editor of the BDN. “This state is a better place because of his dedication to dogged and incisive reporting.”
Cousins, 42, of South Paris joined the Bangor Daily News in August 2009 and initially covered southern Penobscot and Somerset counties. He quickly moved on to politics, covering the 2010 race for governor. In 2013, he was appointed State House bureau chief.
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting in June listed Cousins as one of the 10 most respected journalists in Maine.
“Chris was a great journalist because he was a great person,” his editor Robert Long said. “His heart was huge. Anyone who spent even a few minutes at the State House could see the respect that Chris earned there.
“He got along well with everyone from the person who made his sandwich in the cafe to the Senate president,” Long said. “But he was as tough as he was kind. He did not let government leaders get away with spin or diversions, holding them accountable without being abrasive.
“‘I am not afraid,’ was his standard response to every story assignment in the more than 15 years that I worked with him,” said Long, who also worked with Cousins earlier in his career.
Mario Moretto, director of communications at Maine Center for Economic Policy, covered politics for the BDN with Cousins for two years. Cousins often reminded Moretto that it was the stories and the people that really mattered in journalism.
“I believe that the deep love he felt for the people lucky enough to be in his life contributed to the way he approached his favorite stories — those stories that emphasized the humanity of their subject,” Moretto said in a Facebook post.
“We saw ourselves in those stories,” he added. “And in Chris’s own humanity — his love for his wife and sons, his appreciation for the outdoors, his belief in the power of storytelling — we saw the best parts of ourselves.”
The stories Cousins wrote during his nine years at the Bangor Daily News ranged from the political wrangling behind the scenes in Augusta to a 2010 analysis on the rise of the use of the insanity defense in criminal cases to how Senate President Mike Thibodeau turned into a peacemaker during a 2015 budget scuffle at the State House.
But it was his articles about people that revealed his skills as a storyteller. From the music teacher who in 2011 marked 46 years on the job to the Hollis man who in 2016 recalled the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the ill midcoast girl who went to school in 2015 using a robot, Cousins told their stories with clarity and compassion.
Cousins was a devoted family man. His wife, Jen, was his high school sweetheart. The couple had two sons: Caleb, 13, and, Lucas, 8.
Cousins, along with his State House colleague Michael Shepherd, wrote a blog about politics in Maine called Daily Brief. In it, Cousins commented on and analyzed political issues of the day, but often included personal information about his family.
Tuesday’s edition included an observation about Caleb’s love of the Ford Mustang.
“As he’s learning, it’s a love affair fraught with conflict,” Cousins wrote.
“Last week, Ford announced that it had built its 10 millionth Mustang, which prompted the boy to remark, ‘Well, I’ll be driving the 15 millionth someday.’ But he has a problem: At 13 years old, he is already nearing 5 feet 10 inches tall and clearly in yet another growth spurt. He’s asked me more than once, with real fear in his voice, if he’s going to be too big to drive a Mustang.
“I don’t know how tall he’ll be or what the Mustang can handle, but I’ve been talking a lot about the Ford F-250 pickup truck,” Cousins concluded.
Cousins began his career in 1999 at the Norway Advertiser Democrat. He worked at The Times Record in Brunswick and Bath, then ran the State House News Service in Augusta before joining the BDN. From 2006 to 2007, he was the Donald W. Reynold Fellow for Community Journalism at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.
Cousins graduated in 1998 from Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire. While there he won the Edward R. Murrow Award and the Barbara Johns Stearns Award for campus leadership.
He graduated from Oxford Hills High School in Norway, Maine.
Cousins won numerous awards for his work from the Maine Press Association during his career.
“Chris was not only an excellent journalist, he was an insightful analyst of Maine politics and a stalwart of our newsroom,” Todd Benoit, president of the Bangor Daily News, said Wednesday. “Reporters, no matter their experience, looked to him because of his knowledge of Maine and his strong sense of what made for great news stories. No one was better on deadline than Chris.
“We will miss him not only for what he could do but for who he was: An honorable man who loved his family, Maine and his colleagues,” Benoit said. “I couldn’t ask for a better person to work with.”