Salt ’n Spar

Remembering Larry Gordon

Thu, 04/14/2022 - 6:30pm

Wiscasset lost one of its leading citizens this past week in Lawrence R. Gordon of Federal Street who passed away. Better known as “Larry,” (I don’t recall anyone ever calling him Lawrence) will be remembered most for serving on the select board in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, 21 years as its chairman.

Gordon began his town service as a member of the budget committee in the late 1960s. He retired from town politics around the time Maine Yankee Nuclear Plant was decommissioned in 1998. Voters returned him to the select board to serve a five-month term in January 2017.

As first selectman, Larry served in the capacity of town manager taking on many of the day-to-day duties necessary for the administration of the town. This was a time when Wiscasset had a great deal of money to spend thanks to the tax benefits provided by both Maine Yankee and the former Mason Station that was owned and operated by Central Maine Power Co. Together these generating plants were contributing roughly 95 cents of every tax dollar Wiscasset was spending.

You don’t have to look far today to see where the town invested its money during these times of plenty when Larry Gordon presided over the select board. He was there when the new municipal building was built housing the town office along with the police, fire and ambulance departments. Around this same time, that is the 1970s and ’80s, many of Wiscasset’s downtown streets and secondary roads were reconstructed and much needed improvements made to our waterfront and town landing. The treatment plant was also modernized and enlarged to accommodate the expansion of sewer services. During Gordon’s tenure the select board also came up with a plan to finance construction of a water transmission line to bring a better quality of public drinking water to town from Bath Water District. Larry was still serving as board chairman in 1997 when our community center featuring an indoor swimming pool, multi-purpose room and senior center was built and is now celebrating its 25th year of operation.

Larry Gordon was a big supporter of Wiscasset’s emergency services. He was a 60-year member of Wiscasset Fire Department and one of the founding members of Wiscasset Ambulance Service, which by the way started after a local funeral home donated a hearse, a Cadillac station wagon to be used as an ambulance. Larry drove a blue Toyota then with “WISC 14” on his license plate; that was the name he used over the radio whenever he was responding to an emergency call, which was pretty frequently.   

“I think maybe his greatest legacy was when he suggested creating a reserve account to use when we no longer had Maine Yankee’s money to rely on,” said Ben Rines Jr. “I give him credit for building up that account which was well invested and has greatly benefited the town ever since.” That account managed by the investing firm of H M Payson is now over $17.4 million.

Rines, who resides on Old Bath Road, served a number of terms on the select board with Mr. Gordon. “Larry and I disagreed sometimes but we had great respect for one another. The last time we served together was in 2017,” he added. “Larry was the right person at the right time for Wiscasset, he led our town to the awesome place it is today.”

Judy Flanagan of Gardiner Road also served several terms with Gordon beginning in 1984. Mrs. Flanagan  made her own place in Wiscasset history by becoming the first woman ever elected to the select board. “There were only three select board members then, not five like we now have,” she said. (The late George Flanders of Federal Street was the third select board member.) “It was a good board. Sometimes we three agreed and sometimes we didn’t which is how it should be. Larry being first selectman put in a great number of hours at the town office. He worked very hard and really cared about the community.

“Something I’ll always remember about Larry from long ago,” Mrs. Flanagan added, “was seeing him drop off his wife Norma at the grammar school on Federal Street where she taught kindergarten. He’d always kiss her goodbye as she got out of the car. Larry really had a good heart, for a long time he bought tickets for kids so they could attend the Shriner’s Circus. Not many people knew this side of him.”

Ironically, when Gordon re-joined the select board in 2017 it was to serve the remainder of Mrs. Flanagan’s term after she left the board. In a newspaper interview prior to the election Larry told me he was returning to Wiscasset politics in response to a 14%  increase in property taxes. He called the tax hike unacceptable and pledged to help get the town’s finances back under control. Throughout his select board career, Larry often said the homeowners who were hit hardest by increasing property taxes were older residents on fixed incomes.

Larry often had strong feelings as far as how best to spend the town’s money but he could compromise, too. Deb Pooler at Wiscasset Middle High School remembers working with Selectman Gordon when she was a member of the school committee. “He really wanted what was best for both our schools and the community as a whole. I remember there was a good deal of cooperation and communication between the two boards. There was a feeling of everyone working together to make things better. It’s sad to say but it’s not like that so much anymore,” she said.

I think Larry really enjoyed the early years of his retirement spending evenings at home with Norma, and afternoons golfing with his good friend John Blagdon of Langdon Road. Larry could often be seen driving on one errand or another accompanied by his young granddaughters, Kayla and Lindsey.

Larry was a great help to me during my own two terms on the select board in the early 2000s. My tenure as a selectman started after a highly controversial town-wide revaluation. Indeed, as a result of it, many homeowners saw their assessment greatly increase and property taxes soar. I sought out Larry’s advice during the many hours of work the select board put in during our attempt to correct these inequities. Larry also served as a source for a few of the stories I was writing for my Wiscasset books. One concerned the Boston Post Cane given to the town’s oldest citizen; another was about the ship Wiscasset’s handmade weathervane that now sits in the hearing room of the town office. He was a great news source and always willing to offer his opinion.

Well, sadly there aren’t many people left in Wiscasset who remember Larry Gordon and those of us who do are getting up there in age. Speaking on behalf of those who do remember Larry, and think fondly of him, thank you Selectman Gordon, we appreciate everything you did to make Wiscasset a good place to raise a family and call home.

Phil Di Vece earned a bachelor of arts in journalism studies from Colorado State University and a master of arts in journalism at University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to Wiscasset Newspaper and Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at pdivece@roadrunner.com