YORK — The community of York is joined by people across the state of Maine in mourning the loss of historian, author and politician Neil Rolde, who died Monday at York Hospital surrounded by his family.
Rolde, a former speaker of the Maine House, was recalled Monday as a kind, generous, brilliant and politically astute man, who loved his town and his state, and who defined the Democratic Party and its ideals for generations of Mainers.
Rolde, 86, was the sum of many parts — a politician cum political mentor, a prolific author, a civic servant who served on the boards of many Maine organizations including the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, and, regionally, the longtime president of the Seacoast Shipyard Association and stalwart supporter of the yard.
Rolde became engaged in Democratic politics early in life, serving as an assistant to Gov. Kenneth Curtis in the late 1960s and early 1970s before running for office himself. He represented his adopted hometown of York in the Maine House for 16 years, two of them as speaker. He became the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 1990 in an election bid against Bill Cohen.
Rolde wrote 18 books, many involving the history of Maine and its people. He wrote several books about the history of York. The plight of Native Americans also became a reoccurring theme in Rolde’s life since his childhood and he helped Maine’s tribes while he worked in the Curtis administration. His experiences led him to write one of Maine’s definitive historic books: “Unsettled Past, Unsettled Future: The Story of Maine Indians.”
His publisher at Polar Bear & Company, Ramona du Hoax, said she will miss him.
“With a deep heart, and tremendous love for a man who gave so much to others, we will miss Neil in the depths of our souls. He’ll live on forever in our hearts and with his books. Thank you Neil for blessing this Earth with your presence,” she said.
Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said Rolde’s passing “is a big loss to Maine. From his long service and leadership in the Legislature, to his generosity in the community to successfully leading the charge to save the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard — not once, but twice — he’s left an indelible mark on the state.”
But Pingree said she will remember him most “as a mentor and a friend. I first met Neil when I ran for the Legislature in the 90s. He was brilliant, witty and always a pleasure to spend time with. He will be missed.”
His role as mentor also was at the heart of his friendship with Blume and former York Democratic Committee chairwoman Victoria Simon. Simon said she first met Rolde after moving to York in 1984 when she found him staffing the Democrat’s table at Harvestfest.
“As soon as I met him, I felt like I was home,” she said. “He made me feel that his values were my values: caring for all, helping everybody who needed help, making the world more fair, just and inclusive.”
She said he encouraged her to become chairwoman of the town committee. “I was reticent, and he said I could do it. He was always smart and so sweet and so committed to the principals of the Democratic Party.”
Rolde served on many state boards and commissions, including the Maine Health Care Reform Commission, Maine Historic Preservation and Maine Arts and Humanities Commission. He was chairman of the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation, vice chairman of University of New England board of trustees, chairman of the board of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and a trustee of the Maine Health Care Access Foundation.
As president of the Seacoast Shipyard Association, he coordinated much of the activity surrounding the successful effort to keep the yard open in 2005.
“He was like a father figure to me,” said Paul O’Connor, former president of the Metal Trades Council at the shipyard who succeeded Rolde as SSA president. “He was always so thoughtful. He had that air of maturity. He always tried to take action from the perspective of a positive impact. And he cared about the shipyard, he cared about the people. He was a rational, calm voice in the midst of chaos.”
Blume said she can hardly believe Rolde has passed. “He’s the type of person you always thought would be around,” she said. “We need more people like him in our lives. We need more people like him in Maine.”