Remembering a local legend

BAR HARBOR– How could anyone forget Walter Seward?

“It’s a loss I know we will feel for a very long time as Walter has been a staple of the Bar Harbor Inn for the better part of a generation,” Jeremy Dougherty, the inn’s manager, said of Seward, who died March 24 at the age of 71.

Known by many as the “caretaker of Bar Harbor,” he served in the town’s maintenance department for many years, as well as working at the Bar Harbor Inn and at private residences.

Seward was a veteran, a teacher, a mentor, a friend and a civil rights activist.

His favorite gospel singer was Mahalia Jackson. His favorite song was “Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Seward would agree with his daughter, Priscilla Moncrieffe of Bangor, that “birds were his spirit animal.”

Since his passing last Wednesday evening, following a stroke, Seward’s family and friends say they have been making peace with the loss of an iconic, articulate, caring, elegant, thoughtful, entertaining, welcoming, inspirational, kind, free spirit they will never forget.

Seward was born on Jan. 23, 1950, in Palmer Springs, Virginia, where he grew up by the Roanoke River with lots of family. When he was 3, his mother moved to Boston, and he lived with his great aunt. Following her death, when he was 15, he moved to Boston to live with his mother and siblings. There he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., peacefully protesting for civil rights.

Shortly after moving to Massachusetts, Seward enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. At about the same time, he met a New Hampshire State University student named Gay Stevens. They corresponded throughout his deployment in Vietnam, and they reunited when he returned in 1973. The next year they moved to Bar Harbor, shortly before their daughter, Priscilla, was born.

Seward loved the Bar Harbor Inn, where he worked for 30 years. And according to Seward’s family, he thought the world of the inn’s owners, the Witham family.

He cared for the late David Witham Sr., who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, prior to his death.

“Walter and David had a special relationship,” said Bar Harbor Inn Food Service Director and Dining Room Manager Cathy Walton. “David had a huge admiration for Walter, and I think Walter for him as well.”

Walton said she didn’t think Seward knew what a bad day was.

“He would always greet people with a huge smile, so many of our guests who come back here year after year would want to see Walter first. They would

look forward to seeing him out there raking, singing,” she said.

Seward taught Walton’s children and many others how to skate at Glen Mary pool, which he kept in ship-shape condition for decades.

“His smile was infectious, and the way he told stories was magical,” Seward’s daughter said. “I’m sure that, as a child, when he talked to you, he made you feel like you were the only one in the room.”

Seward organized Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances in Bar Harbor with Pastor Rob Benson of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church.

“He was also very active working with the YWCA and the MDI Racial Equity Working Group about civil rights,” Benson said.

Some of Seward’s ashes will be spread in Bar Harbor and the remainder will be carried to Virginia and released in the Roanoke River.

For those who would like to share some of their stories of Walter and how he

has touched their lives, the Bar Harbor Inn will be hosting a celebration of his life on April 10 from 12-4 p.m. Any photos, memories, short stories or videos to be shared at the celebration can be submitted to his daughter at [email protected]

Ninah Rein

Ninah Rein

Writer at Mount Desert Islander
Ninah Rein, an MDI native, covers news and features in the Bar Harbor area. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.
Ninah Rein

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