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Former Maine Sen. William Hathaway Dies
06/25/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Members of Maine's congressional delegation and political observers are remembering former U.S. Sen. Bill Hathaway as a mentor and a gentleman, who fought for working people and veterans during his years in Washington. Hathaway died Monday at age 89 at his home in McLean, Virginia. Jay Field has this rememberance.

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In October of 1978, Democratic Sen. Bill Hathaway spoke about support from elected officials back home for what he saw as one of his biggest accomplishments in Washington: the settlement of the Indian land claims dispute in Maine.

"The governor, the attorney general and the delegation, I should have said, are endorsing the settlement that I was able to negotiate last week, or finalize last week. It took several months to negotiate, I'll tell you that!" he said, with a chuckle.

But despite the support of key office holders in Maine, the agreement, negotiated with the Carter Administration, was highly controversial. Hathaway's opponent that fall, Republican William Cohen, opposed the settlement with Maine's tribes. And voter dissatisfaction over the agreement became a key part of Cohen's successful campaign to deny Hathaway a second term in the U.S. Senate.

For Hathaway, it was a dramatic reversal of fortune, who first arrived in Washington as a U.S. representative.

"He won his seat in the House, I think, in '64," says Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel. Maisel says Hathaway represented the 2nd Distirct for the next eight years, '"until he ran against Margaret Chase Smith in '72. And then he beat Margaret Chase Smith. And that, in itself in Maine politics is an incredible accomplishment."

Hathaway's upset of the Republican icon, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, was a mild disappointment to a young political science professor at the University of Maine. Ken Palmer, who's now a professor emeritus, worked for Chase Smith's re-election on the ground in Orono. Palmer was also in charge of the university's congressional internship program.

"When Sen. Hathaway was elected, he immediately took on an intern. And we had a very good experience with him in his office in Washington," Palmer says. "He was very helpful to our students."

Palmer says got to know Hathaway well over the years. He sat next to him at Rotary Club dinners and other functions. Hathaway, Palmer says, wasn't like many politicians today. He lacked pretension and seemed willing to talk to anyone about anything.

Hathaway's service to his country began well before he arrived in the halls of Congress. In World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was shot down in 1943, while bombing oil fields over Romania, and was captured and held as a prisoner of war for over two months.

He was awarded the Air Medal, the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. Second District Congressman Mike Michaud says Hathaway cared deeply about America's veterans. Michaud, who's made veterans affairs a top priority of his in Washington, says he and Hathaway would talk about the issues from time to time.

"I've known him for a a while," Michaud says. "Last time I saw him was on Inauguration Day in Washington. He's devoted his life to serving Maine and the American people. And we had a chance to talk about veterans' issues. Just a really nice guy - and thoughtful. He always would smile."

Former U.S. senator from Maine, Bill Hathaway, died Monday at his home in McLean, Virginia. He was 89 years old.


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