His smile was all innocence, but his eyes gave him away. He was brimming with mischief and, according to his daughter, that’s not all he was full of. Bruce Carter was full of fun, ready for adventure and a dedicated son of Franklin. He passed away on Halloween at the age of 90. He would have made something of Halloween being his last day.
Bruce could make a story out of anything. He was remembered by a gathering of family and friends at the Franklin Volunteer Fire Department the week before Thanksgiving. There was plenty of laughter and fond remembrance at the thought of Bruce and all he gave to his town.
He was everything a person could be in a small Maine town. He was a selectman and a school committee member. A road commissioner and a water commissioner. He moderated Town Meeting, served on the Planning Board, was a trustee of the Community Center, a founder of the Franklin Veterans Club and the driving force behind the Korean War/Vietnam War monument. Bruce was Franklin.
Municipal government has changed. Gone are the days when three selectmen around a wood stove could sort out how to take care of business in their town. Life has gotten far more complicated, largely due to mandates from the state about what has to be done and by whom. Yet small towns still have many of the elements of the “old days” and function just fine with a level of informality long gone in larger municipalities.
In this, Bruce was a master. He and his friends were ready whenever their town needed them. As they worked, they swapped stories about their lives, the history of Franklin and the people who lived there. Bruce married Alice and brought her to Franklin in 1954. She became the town treasurer and the registrar of voters. They were indisputably a team.
Underestimate Bruce at your peril. When he spoke of getting Maine independent Governor Angus King to come to Franklin, there was eye-rolling. Did the Governor even know where Franklin was? Sure enough, Governor King showed up. Not only that, he came back for a second visit. As state senators came and went, Bruce befriended them and they came too, following instructions to be at the Trading Post for coffee by 6 a.m., by which time Bruce and Alice were well into their second cup.
Those who gathered at the Fire Department to remember Bruce were those who knew best what his loss meant to the Independent Republic of Franklin. They are cut from the same cloth, the people who step up time after time to do what needs to be done, steeped in the same ethic as Bruce was when it comes to service to their town. Mind you, they do not see it as “service.” To them, it is just the shared responsibility it takes to keep a town running.
Were you to visit Franklin once every decade, most of the faces you’d see doing the town’s business would be the same. A little grayer on top, perhaps, but it is the same crowd. Running a town is just a way of life for some people, the way others might hunt, or fish, or garden. The rest of us rely on them.
Take Millard and Beverly Billings. They knew Bruce and Alice as well as anyone. Millard is the code enforcement officer for Franklin, Winter Harbor and other communities. He is the supervisor of the Unorganized Territories in Hancock County and was town manager of Tremont. He and Bruce spoke the same language.
There was talk of others who are gone, like Franklin’s longtime town clerk, Bob Fernald, who worked mostly out of his home, his farmhouse kitchen looking like a Maine storybook brought to life. They talked of mystery rides, destination unknown, the only certainty being that ice cream would be involved.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Bruce’s dedication to his hometown is that his daughter Dawn has picked up the baton. She may not share her father’s politics (“I’m on the other side,” she says with a laugh), but her life honors his. She is now the first selectman in Franklin, on the board since 2015.
She has many of Bruce’s ways, leaning in to share a word as though it is meant for your ears only, letting you know that whatever she says, it is going to end in laughter. Like her father, Dawn comes to you with the expectation that you are going to be friends. Right away, you know you don’t want to let her down.
Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to be mindful of the people like Bruce in your town. The best way to say thanks is to lend them a hand.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.