Margaret H. Shea

Jan 22, 2013
Margaret H. Shea

Damariscotta — Margaret H. Shea, age 96, passed away on Saturday evening, Jan. 12, 2013 at the Cove's Edge Long-Term Care facility in Damariscotta.

She is survived by her husband of 70 years, S. Merrill Shea; their four children, Merrill Shea, Joanne Bollinger, Nancy Shea, and Peter Shea and his wife, Suzan; grandchildren Benjamin Low, his wife Anna, Rebecca Low and friend Turk, Simon Shea and his wife Kendra; and several nieces, nephews and their children.

Born in Boston on Oct. 11,1916, she came with her family to Jefferson every summer. The rail journey from Boston required a train-car ferry crossing of the Kennebec River before continuing to Damariscotta Mills, followed by a horse and buggy ride to the 200-year-old farmhouse that her parents had named “Hillandale”. It was a quarter-mile walk up to Bunker Hill Church, where her father, Dr. Isaac Higginbotham, a Baptist minister, often preached.

Margaret graduated first in her class with a degree in English from Simmons College in 1936, then went to work as administrative assistant to Godfrey Dewey (Director of the Lake Placid Club and member of the U.S. Olympic Committee) in Lake Placid, NY. In that capacity she edited and supervised the publication of Dewey's textbooks of his Script Shorthand System. Legend in the family is the tale of her terrifying experience of twice going down the Olympic Bobsled Run; when asked why she did it a second time, she said, “How do you say “no” to your boss?!” It was in Lake Placid that she and Merrill met while singing in the church choir. They were married in 1942 and resided in New York and New Jersey for the first years of their marriage.

In 1951, Margaret and Merrill settled in Auburn in order to provide a more healthful environment for their children. Times were difficult in those early years, but Margaret was always able to make the best of any situation, instilling a sense of adventure and delight in the everyday — who would have thought of lettuce leaves sprinkled with sugar and then rolled up, as a dessert? She imparted a love of reading and learning to her children with enthusiasm and encouragement, while gently insisting on correct grammar. They still chuckle at her complaining and underlining of errors in the local paper, to the extent that she took her complaints to the editor, offering her services as a proofreader!

Margaret's first job in Auburn was as church secretary at the Court St. United Baptist Church. But it was her second job at the Auburn Public Library that set the course for the rest of her working days. After about five years, she became the librarian for the Buckfield schools as well as taking masters courses. Eventually she took the position of District Librarian for the SAD 40 elementary schools, where she was responsible for creating the library system. (At her retirement party, she announced that she was stepping down, although not due to her age of 75. She then brought down the house with the revelation: “I'm pregnant!”)

Margaret became active in the Mid-Coast Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), treasuring her participation in one of its book groups and writing a history of the branch. Continuing her commitment to literacy, she was a tutor with Literacy Volunteers, and spent several years writing a handbook for the organization. Many trips to the British Isles were a source of joy and fond memories. A long-standing member of the Jefferson Historical Society and Bunker Hill Grange (now the Bunker Hill Community Club), she enjoyed the status of being the oldest member on the road in recent years.

Along with her positive approach to life, Margaret had uncompromising standards regarding the environment, exploitation of both people and resources, and never causing pain to others. This led to her taking such stands as refusing to make even one more trip until they bought a hybrid car or vowing never to enter a big-box store. Her grandchildren can still hear her saying, “If you can't say anything nice about someone, say nothing at all.”

Even though Margaret was a frequent patient at Miles Memorial Hospital and Cove's Edge during her last few years, she strove to be smiling and upbeat, ever careful to extend gratitude to her caregivers. True to form, she was still to be found with a book in hand two weeks before she passed away. Many of the staff came up to her family to express their fondness for her. In turn, family members extend their heartfelt thanks to all the caregivers who touched her life: those at The Lincoln Home, Miles Hospital, Cove's Edge, and Stacy, Patty, and Karen. In summing up her life, perhaps one nurse said it best: “She had one long, great ride!”

A memorial service for Margaret will be announced, and held, in the spring. Arrangements are under the direction and care of the Strong-Hancock Funeral Home, 612 Main Street, Damariscotta. Condolences, and messages for the family, may be expressed by visiting: StrongHancock.com.

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