Maj. Gen. Nelson Durgin, a former Maine adjutant general and Bangor City Council chair who became a vocal advocate for Maine veterans and for early childhood education, died Friday at the age of 83.
Durgin was born on June 23, 1937, in the town of Oxford, and attended Norway High School, where he was class president, according to his obituary. He met his future wife, Carla, while working at the Bethel Inn just after high school, and they married in 1961, according to a 2017 article in Maine Seniors magazine. He later attended Portland University — one of the institutions that preceded today’s University of Southern Maine — and graduated with a degree in business administration.
After graduating from college, Durgin enlisted in the Maine Air National Guard in December 1960 and asked Carla to marry him before he left for basic training, according to Maine Seniors magazine.
For the next 35 years, Durgin would serve with the guard, starting off in an era that saw the closure of Dow Air Force Base in Bangor. Bangor International Airport, created from the former base, is still the home of the 101st Air Refueling Wing of the Maine Air National Guard, known as the MAINEiacs.
Durgin was continually promoted during his military career until he achieved the rank of major general. In 1991, Gov. John McKernan appointed him to be Maine’s adjutant general and commissioner for defense, veterans and emergency management, a position he held until his retirement from the military in 1995.
Durgin knew Brewer native Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, Maine’s current adjutant general, from the beginnings of Farnham’s military career. Farnham said that Durgin’s gift for leadership extended far beyond the military.
“He was a community leader in so many ways, and we all got to experience the tremendous impacts that he made, both in and out of uniform,” Farnham said. “He was a great man, one who will be fondly remembered by everyone who knew him.”
Sen. Susan Collins met Durgin when the two served in McKernan’s Cabinet. Collins was commissioner of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.
“He was a leader of such integrity, who was dedicated to serving others, a quality that defined his entire life,” Collins said Monday.
After retiring from the military, Durgin served as executive director and administrator of the Phillips-Strickland House, an assisted living facility in Bangor, a position he held for 15 years. As director, he oversaw the construction of Boyd Place, an independent living facility associated with Phillips Strickland.
Durgin was a vocal advocate for Maine veterans and for both the youngest and oldest residents of Maine — from those coping with Alzheimer’s disease to preschoolers. For decades, he volunteered with or served on the boards of many civic organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Bangor, the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, the Bangor Kiwanis Club, Bangor Rotary, the United Way of Eastern Maine and the Bangor Historical Society. He also served for 23 years on the board of trustees of St. Joseph Hospital, and was a member of the Hammond Street Congregational Church for 51 years.
After retiring from Phillips-Strickland, Durgin served two terms as a Bangor city councilor, between 2010 and 2016, and was named council chair — a position informally referred to as mayor — for two of those years, 2012 to 2013 and 2014 to 2015.
“Nelson was pure class,” said Ben Sprague, who served alongside Durgin as a councilor for five years. “He was thoughtful, principled and cared immensely about his fellow citizens. In one breath he was advocating for his fellow veterans, and in the very next he was talking about the importance of early education and childhood wellness.”
Durgin is survived by his wife, Carla; son Michael and daughter Marjorie; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Funeral services will be private, and a public celebration of life will be held after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.