Few things give Mal Osborn a greater sense of pride than his University of Maine letter jacket.
That’s why he was so disappointed when he misplaced it.
The 92-year-old Lincoln native has grown attached to the wool “M” jacket, which represents his successes as a runner at UMaine from 1949-52.
“It was a part of me because I’ve had it so long,” said Osborn, who still works as a tax lawyer in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“It was a miracle that it stayed in the condition that it’s in. It wasn’t something that hung in the closet. I wore it,” he said, his Maine accent still strong despite living in the South for 56 years.
In October, Osborn told his daughter, Beverly Amick, that he had misplaced the jacket, which has his name “Mal” embroidered on the right front.
“Our theory is that he put it on top of the car and got in the car and drove up the street to go to the local restaurant and it fell off his car into someone’s yard,” Amick said.
Family members retraced Osborn’s usual travel routes and asked neighbors whether they had seen the jacket.
Amick then turned to social media with a Facebook post that showed her dad wearing the jacket with three gold medals he won at a masters swimming competition. Osborn was sure it would never turn up.
Amick vowed to find it. In the first four hours after she made her post public, it was shared more than 1,000 times. It took less than 24 hours to locate it.
The jacket had been found on Nov. 1, buried in leaves on someone’s front lawn. The woman who discovered told Amick said she had a feeling she shouldn’t discard it.
One of his acquaintances was friends with the woman who found the jacket and alerted her that she knew who the owner was.
The jacket was dry-cleaned before Osborn reclaimed it last Thursday.
“Today is the first day I didn’t wear it since I got it back,” he said Monday. “I have to give credit to all these people being so kind.”
To help demonstrate his appreciation for everyone who helped him recover the jacket, Osborn spent a couple of hours Monday ringing the Salvation Army bell at a local store.
“I had a reason to wish everybody that came by a Merry Christmas,” he said.
Osborn was the outdoor state champion in the mile competing for Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln, where he lived with his family on Mattanawcook Pond and once ran a hotdog stand on Main Street.
He said he never would have been able to attend college had it not been for his running talents.
“I got scholarships all four years,” Osborn said. “I borrowed a little bit, but I had a hotdog stand in Lincoln that I ran.”
Osborn was a distance specialist who ran the mile, half-mile, 2-mile and relays for the Black Bears while earning nine letters in track and cross country.
His name still appears in the UMaine track and field record books. He and teammates Charles Foote, James Holden and John Wathen own the third-fastest mile relay time in school history at 3 minutes, 31.2 seconds, which they ran on Feb. 3, 1951.
Osborn was the Maine Intercollegiate Athletic Association outdoor mile champion in 1951 (4:37.6) and 1952 (4:33.8).
He earned his undergraduate degree from UMaine in 1952, then received his Juris Doctor from Boston University in 1956 and completed a Master of Laws in taxation at BU in 1961.
He has lived in North Carolina since 1964, having served as an adjunct professor of law at Wake Forest School of Law and Winston-Salem State.
Osborn doesn’t run any more, but has stayed active and especially enjoys swimming.
“In the summertime, I’ve got a heated pool. I swim laps in it as often as I can, almost every day,” he said.
The ordeal with the lost UMaine jacket has reminded Osborn yet again how fortunate he has been during a long and productive life.
“I’m awful glad I got it,” he said. “I hope you give credit to all the kind people, especially my daughter, who set this whole thing in motion. I know there’s good people in the world, but this made me more aware of it.”