MOUNT DESERT — “We Were Wardens Together,” a full-of-photos memoir by Somesville resident Don Cote, is an engaging and entertaining story of a truly remarkable life – as a fishing guide, game warden, part-time lobsterman, park ranger, TV advertising star, code enforcement officer, conservationist and devoted husband to Bea, his wife of 32 years who died in 1983.
They began courting in the summer of 1949, when both were working at The Birches, a fishing lodge on Moosehead Lake – he as a guide, she as a waitress.
“Bea and I would go walking sometimes in the evening,” he writes. “We sat on the porch of the girls’ cabin talking about fishing and gardening and outdoor activities. I discovered that Bea had a lovely voice and played piano and guitar.”
Game warden, park ranger
Cote had always wanted to be a game warden, and in 1953 he passed the Maine Warden Service exam. He worked first in what he calls the North Country, then in the Greenville area and finally on Mount Desert Island. Bea often accompanied him as he made his rounds, thus the title of the book, which is dedicated to Bea.
Among the things that bothered him the most as a game warden were littering and dogs chasing deer.
After retiring from the Warden Service in 1975, Cote worked for one summer as a trail crew supervisor in Acadia National Park. The next winter, he and Bea rescued four men who were stranded in icy water in Long Pond, an act for which he received a commendation from the Maine Legislature.
Cote spent the next five years as a ranger at Acadia and then six years as the town of Mount Desert’s code enforcement officer.
Camel’s ‘Walk a Mile’ Man
In 1967, the producers of television commercials for Camel cigarettes were on MDI looking for someone who had “a fisherman’s lope and looked like a resident of Maine.”
After three days they were about to give up and move on when someone suggested Don Cote. They called him, met him, liked him and cast him in one of their “I’d Walk a Mile for a Camel” ads.
One of the producers described Cote’s role to him this way: “What it amounts to is you walking on the rocks smoking a cigarette and looking into the camera saying you’d walk a mile for a camel.”
Don figured that would be easy enough. In one scene in the 60-second commercial, Don is seen leaping over a crevice in the rocks at Thunder Hole in Acadia.
There were several commercials in the Walk a Mile series, but Don said he was told that the one featuring him was the one the Camel executives liked best.
“The Camel ad was very popular, and my earnings made me eligible for a Screen Actors Guild card,” Cote said. “Back in those days, I think I was the only warden in Maine with that SAG distinction.”
Three years after shooting the Camel commercial, he was invited to appear on an ABC News special called “This Land is Mine,” which he described as focusing on “wilderness and natural beauty spots fast disappearing from America.”
“My life, in a way, has always involved conservation,” he writes. “I grew up in a family that never wasted anything or took anything for granted. I have become increasingly aware of making peace with nature and would rather walk through the deer-filled woods, today, without a gun.
“I’ve been lucky to have lived in some of the most beautiful places in Maine, and I tried to leave them better than I found,” he continues. “Now that I think of it – I guess I am a conservationist.”
“We Were Wardens Together” is a large-format, hardcover book that is exceptionally well written, handsomely designed and illustrated with scores of old photos. It is available at Sherman’s Book Shop in Bar Harbor.