I have some dueling feelings, and would like to know what you are doing today?
Are you headed to the Maine Mall for some holiday shopping? Putting up your Christmas tree? Football game? Browse social media and offer your political opinions?
How are you making the world around you a better place?
I am not trying to shame you because any of those activities above could dominate a big part of my own day. I just want to offer my observations of the last 24 hours; a mixture of blessings and loss.
Earlier this week, our community lost a tremendous leader; a man who embodied community spirit. I only met him a couple of times, only briefly. I did not know him as well as I should have. I didn’t even know he died until I saw the obituary that his daughter posted on her Facebook timeline.
Richard “Dick” Potvin was the embodiment of living in community. He was from the tail end of that “greatest generation:” men and women who didn’t talk about community service or brag about it. They just did it. And Mr. Potvin did that better than most people.
He was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life.
His obituary tells an amazing story of a working-class man who left behind an amazing legacy.
He was a standout athlete in high school and held the Amateur Maine State Golden Glove Welterweight Championship, undefeated until he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He served as a forward observer for an artillery unit and sustained a bullet wound to the head by a sniper. He was awarded a Purple Heart and honorably discharged.
That would be more than enough “service” for most people. But not for Dick.
He came home to Biddeford and worked for York Bottling Company and married Doris Cote at St. Andre’s Church. After changing jobs, he and his wife moved several times over the next two decades before becoming the Public Works Director in Biddeford. A couple of years later, the couple opened Potvin’s Market in Old Orchard Beach.
For a couple raising three children, you would think their plates were full. Running a convenience store does not offer much in the way of “down time.”
But Dick kept serving his community, serving nine terms on the city council and was appointed to serve on numerous city committees. He was also a stalwart of the Maine Democratic Party, and according to his obituary, was invited to the White House for breakfast as a thank you for his support of President Jimmy Carter. He and his wife hosted Walter Mondale in their home during Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign.
Enough, right? Wrong.
Dick was appointed as Maine State Athletic Commissioner and served under two governors, and was a member of the Elks, Knights of Columbus, AMVETS, VFW, and Fraternal Order of Eagles.
But wait. There’s more. Beyond his own three children, Dick was a mentor, coach and a steadying influence to countless children in Biddeford. Facing retirement, he founded the Southern Maine Boxing Club with the mission to promote positive youth activity through the art of boxing. His son, Jay, continues to successfully run the club.
Speaking of his children, Laura and I have the privilege and honor of knowing his daughter, Renee and her husband Jim, counting them among our friends.
Renee and her brothers are following their father’s footsteps in community service. Renee serves with Laura on the City Council’s Policy Committee. Renee also, stubbornly and nearly single-handedly led the effort to restore the city’s historical downtown opera house, City Theater.
This morning, I cannot fathom the emptiness that Renee and her family are experiencing. When men like Dick leave us behind, the void is huge, almost unimaginable.
So while we remember them in our prayers and thoughts, I want to do better. I want to be more like Dick Potvin. I want to be more like Renee O’Neil. I want to spend less time fretting about my own little problems and focus more on the world around me. I want to be more like the next person I am going to mention.
Heroes are not reserved for comic books. They walk amongst us everyday. And I am so lucky to know so many of them by name.
One of our community’s shining heroes is actually a heroine. Over the last several years, Vassie Fowler has redefined the words “personal sacrifice in her efforts to make the world a brighter place for those among us who are less fortunate.
If you know Vassie and her husband, Jack, then consider yourself lucky. They are the owners of Union House Pub and Pizza in Biddeford. Every Thanksgiving, Vassie coordinates an epic turkey drive to help provide holiday meals to more than 100 less fortunate families.
Last night, Vassie and Jack hosted their fifth annual Toys for Tots fundraiser and dinner. The event started modestly, a small affair at their own business, attended by only a handful of guests. Last night, the conference facility at the Ramada Inn was packed with people opening their wallets and their hearts for children.
Vassie is a relentless giver. She gives, gives and then gives some more. She invests hundreds of hours every year making life better for other people. She works her fingers to the bone and pulls off grand events on shoestring budgets because of a work ethic that is beyond words.
It’s hard to match Vassie’s commitment to her community, but it can be done. Take, for example, another one of the people I am honored to call my friend, Pam Payeur.
Pam is the executive director of the Wounded Heroes Program of Southern Maine.
Every day, Pam can be found working in our community, raising awareness about the plight of our nation’s wounded heroes. Her work, dedication and passion for helping veterans is off the charts. Not just on Veteran’s Day or helping coordinate the annual Wreaths Across America event, but on a hot August day when a local veteran needs a ride to a medical appointment; or in September when she seeks volunteers to help move a veteran and his belongings to a new residential facility.
She is on the front-lines every day. Based on her Facebook wall, I strongly suspect she never sleeps. There is always something more that needs to be done. Always another opportunity to help a charity, raise awareness and champion the forgotten and discarded.
So allow me to ask you this. How is it that people like me get to live in a world among heroes like these? What are we going to do today to make our world a better place?
I don’t think you have to receive a Purple Heart, have breakfast at the White House or collect 200 turkeys for the less fortunate. But maybe we could just try to treat one another with little more kindness, a little more respect.
Maybe we can just carve out five minutes of each day or an hour each week dedicated to something beyond our own world. Maybe that is enough. Maybe not, but it seems like a good place to start.