By Aimee Dolloff of the Bangor Daily News- Harold Alfond, the former shoe company magnate whose generosity can and will continue to be seen in all corners of Maine and beyond, died early Friday morning at the age of 93.
Alfond had battled cancer for 20 years and died at MaineGeneral Hospital in Augusta, although he had intended to return to Florida where he lived in Palm Beach, according to family members.
With the death of Alfond, one of the state's leading philanthropists, active sports enthusiasts and successful businessmen, Maine has lost one of its greatest residents, Gov. John Baldacci said Friday.
"He was surrounded by the top businessmen in America who all admired him and talked about him all the time," friend Bob Barrett said Friday. "His number one priority in his life, other than business, was his family."
Alfond was born in 1914 in Swampscott, Mass., to Simon and Rose Alfond. As one of seven children of divorced parents, Alfond spent much of his life helping disadvantaged children in any way he could.
"He said he was particularly interested in children of divorced families because his mother and father were divorced and he always felt that kids who had that unlucky experience were a little tougher and had a little bit more chance in life because of the hard times they went through," Barrett said. "He was always supportive of kids who had had that experience just as he had."
Alfond and his wife, the late Dorothy "Bibby" Alfond, raised four children — Ted, Susan, Bill and Peter. He also has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the family often gathers at the Belgrade Lakes compound Alfond purchased as a young man.
"His greatest love was to help students and athletes," Barrett said.
Alfond shared his wealth generously with the University of Maine and many nonprofit causes.
"The University of Maine is a better place because of the opportunities Harold provided for our students, and we will fondly remember him as one of UMaine's most loyal and generous friends," UM President Robert Kennedy said upon learning of Alfond's death.
Alfond was a well-known Maine businessman and was the founder and former owner of Dexter Shoe Co., which he sold for more than $400 million to Warren Buffett.
Richard Bilodeau of Dexter worked for Dexter Shoe for 34 years and often chauffeured Harold Alfond to and from the airport when needed. Bilodeau said he first worked for the company in Skowhegan and later became assistant factory manager at the Dexter plant.
"He was a very philanthropic man. He loved to take care of people and help them out as long as they were deserving and they did their share," Bilodeau said Friday.
Alfond never attended college but donated millions of dollars to higher-education institutions over the years.
"All that he'd done, all the wealth that he'd accumulated, he never forgot Maine, he never forgot Mainers, he never forgot the kids," Gov. Baldacci said Friday. "And people will continue to see that."
In keeping with his plan "not to retire until at least 10 years after his death," Alfond has committed nearly all of his assets to the Harold Alfond Foundation, which will continue to fund charitable causes in the state for many generations.
"All of us who were lucky enough to call him a friend will miss him dearly, but his legacy will live on for so many years to come," U.S. Sen. Susan Collins stated Friday.
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud's comment that Alfond was an inspiration to many was echoed by Maine Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings.
"His vision and compassion will be sorely missed, but not forgotten," Cummings said.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and her husband, former Gov. John McKernan Jr. also sent their condolences to the Alfond family.
"Words simply cannot adequately express how blessed Maine has been to have someone like Harold whose character, caliber, and immeasurable goodness have been time and again so instrumental in helping our young people in Maine by providing hope and opportunity, so they may have a brighter future," they said in a joint statement.
Donations to projects, mainly sports facilities, within the University of Maine System, were one of the many ways Alfond benefited young people in the state.
"No person demonstrated more passion for and commitment to the young people of Maine than Harold Alfond," University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude stated Friday. "Throughout his life, he was a tireless advocate for children and their personal and educational aspirations. His name is synonymous with compassionate philanthropy."
One of Alfond's crowning achievements was the Waterville youth recreation center that he and his wife helped create with assistance from the community.
The total price tag was $8 million, with $3.5 million coming from Alfond. The rest came from the community, and that partnership was something Alfond insisted on. That project also created one of the first partnerships between the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA.
"He told people that he would help them out, but they would have to work together," Baldacci said. "It was about doing good, but it was about getting a partnership going."
Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell said the club was one of the finest in America when he visited the facility in 1999, Barrett said.
"I think they were feeding something like 350 kids a day," he said.
Alfond loved to entertain friends, particularly when it came to sporting events.
"He would frequently fly all of us from Maine in his private plane out to see the University of Maine in its championship games in the big tournaments around the country," Barrett said.
The anecdotes about Alfond and his generous and caring spirit that contributed more than $100 million to causes in Maine go on and on no matter whom you talk to.
"It's one of those things you could probably write and write and write and never finish doing justice to," Baldacci said. "It's impossible to quantify what he has meant to the state of Maine. His impact will truly be lasting."
BDN writer Diana Bowley contributed to this report.
AUGUSTA – Governor John Baldacci extends his deepest sympathy to the family of Harold Alfond upon hearing of his passing.
"Harold was truly one of a kind. He was my friend, and I will miss him," said the Governor. "He was an impeccable business man, a deeply devoted family man, and tremendous benefactor to Maine people and communities. It's impossible to quantify what he has meant to the State of Maine. His impact will truly be lasting."
Governor Baldacci has joined Harold Alfond at many events celebrating the generous gifts Alfond has made to education, athletic and health care institutions and organizations.
"You can't go anywhere in the state without seeing something he contributed to," said Governor Baldacci. "Most importantly, Harold built partnerships. He brought people together and helped them achieve their goals. Harold was always generous, especially with children. He reached out to help communities. His efforts will be felt for years to come. Maine has lost one of its greatest men."
"Harold had a huge heart, always giving selflessly. He has left the State of Maine a legacy of hope and inspiration. He was my friend; he was a friend of the State of Maine," said Governor Baldacci.
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