BAR HARBOR — When College of the Atlantic opened in the fall of 1972, Millard Dority had already been working there for more than two years. Now, 51 years later, he is still there.
His job title is director of campus planning, buildings and public safety.
“But there is no title that really captures how important he is to the institution and to me personally,” said COA President Darron Collins. “He is the living archive of College of the Atlantic. I trust him deeply and profoundly. He’s a special, special guy.”
Millard dropped out of Mount Desert Island High School in the spring of his sophomore year when he was 17. He was something of a misfit, a nonconformist, and the principal actually encouraged him to leave.
Millard played guitar and dreamed of becoming a rock star, but his mother insisted he get a job. When he showed up for his interview with Ed Kaelber, COA’s founding president, and Ann Peach, the business manager – the college’s only two employees at the time – he thought there was no way they would hire a dropout with hair down to his waist. But they gave him a groundskeeping job.
“I didn’t know a thing,” Millard told an interviewer some years ago. “I didn’t even know you had to turn a screwdriver clockwise in order to screw the screw in.”
But Bill Carpenter, a founding member of the faculty who retired as professor of literature and creative writing in 2019, said Kaelber obviously saw something in Millard that not everyone else did.
“Ed was a visionary guy,” Carpenter said. “I think he saw Millard’s abilities right from the start, even though he was only hired as a lawn mower.”
Five years later, at age 22, Millard was made head of campus facilities.
“I would say that Millard was genetically engineered to be the buildings and grounds director at COA,” Carpenter said.
Millard’s father died of polio before he was born.
“Ed became as close to a father as anyone I had known,” he said. “To me, he was almost biblical; I almost thought he could walk on water. And I know he was extremely proud of me.”
Millard said that, even after all these years, he still wakes up every morning eager to go to work.
“The place is amazing. I get to interact with extraordinary people every day.”
For example, he said, last year he had five students working in his office. There was one from the United Kingdom, one from Hong Kong, one from Germany, one from Slovakia and even one from exotic, far-off Boston.
“They were so dedicated and so unbelievably smart,” Millard said. “And being around the faculty every day is an extraordinary experience.
“And it all came about for me because I couldn’t believe that public education was measuring the worth of my education by the length of my hair or whether I wore socks or my shirt was tucked in.
“I’ll never forget my first day at COA. Ed Kaelber and I walked what is now the college campus, and I felt like he was one of the few people I had ever met who actually cared about my experience, what happened at the high school.”
In addition to working at COA, Millard has studied there, albeit unofficially. He would talk with the students who worked for him about their classes.
“With some of my classes, he actually read all the books for the class and therefore, essentially took the course,” Carpenter said. “He self-educated all along.”
Having missed only the first six weeks of COA’s existence, Millard has experienced all its highs and lows. The lowest, undoubtedly, was the fire in 1983 that destroyed the administration and library building.
“In a matter of hours, we had nothing left except ashes,” Millard said. “It’s nothing less than heroic that the college is still here.”
Millard was definitely one of the heroes.
“He was the primary rebuilder of the school,” Carpenter said. “There were a lot of people involved, but it was all overseen by Millard. And it wasn’t just the physical rebuilding; he was the center of campus morale at that time.”
There have been many high points in COA’s history. In 2005, Millard orchestrated the first zero-waste graduation at an institution of higher learning in America.
“I said I know we can do it, and I’ll do it as long as it’s not a gimmick, as long as we can prove it and use a metric that we can actually measure,” he said.
The highlight for him each year is being in the audience for the senior presentations.
“There’s nothing better than seeing those students up there,” he said. “The level of work they do is incredible.”
From the start, Ed Kaelber was committed to integrating COA into the life of the community, and Millard has taken that to heart. He serves on the Bar Harbor Planning Board and for many years was on the Warrant Committee. He has been president of Kids’ Corner childcare center and was a youth football league coach.
Asked if he has plans to retire, Millard said he has thought about it. He has a grandson in Arizona he hasn’t seen, and the COVID-19 pandemic has given him pause.
But he said that if he does retire, “It’s not going to be because I’m bored; I can guarantee you that.
“When I’m on my deathbed, I’m going to be able to say that I’ve been involved in something that’s really important.”