Dan Paradee, longtime spokesman for Maine Turnpike Authority, died at his home in Gardiner on Tuesday morning after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 54.

Paradee probably was best known for the Labor Day traffic counts he delivered to news reporters at the York toll plaza, where he donned a moose suit each year and handed out token gifts to tourists as they left the state.

During his 15 years with the authority, Paradee oversaw public information campaigns for some of Maine’s largest transportation projects, including the five-year widening in the late 1990s and the adoption of the E-ZPass automated toll system.

Colleagues and others described Paradee as a gentleman and a professional whose straightforward, low-key nature assuaged disgruntled turnpike users, inquisitive reporters and probing legislators alike.

“Turnpike issues can be somewhat contentious. Dan had almost a calming effect because of his demeanor,” said state Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

Damon said many people will miss Paradee, whose family plans to hold a celebration of his life in early December in Gardiner. He leaves behind his wife, Kathy, and their two children, Danny, a college sophomore, and Becca, a senior at Gardiner High School.

Paradee, a New Jersey native, came to Maine to work on Walter Mondale’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1984. He stayed and served as a public information officer in the Maine Senate majority office for 10 years.

He was hired for the legislative position by Paul Violette, who was then Senate president, representing the St. John River Valley. Ten years later, when Violette was executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, he hired Paradee to be its first public relations manager.

“It became evident to me, shortly after I became the executive director, that we had no public relations,” Violette said. “In the years that followed, Dan not only developed our public relations program, he became involved in every aspect of running the authority.”

Violette said Paradee’s intellect, charm and wit made him an asset and a trusted adviser in many situations, from negotiating employee contracts to establishing new turnpike policies. In 2008, Violette appointed Paradee to the authority’s management team.

Still, Paradee remained a humble PR guy, transforming himself each Labor Day into “Miles the Turnpike Moose,” a character he created to promote his adopted state and thank tourists who contributed to its economy.

Paradee clearly enjoyed his job and relished connecting with people, as he described in a 2002 Press Herald story:

“It just astounds me,” Paradee said. “You would think that people would be a little grumpy. The summer’s over and they’re heading back and there’s heavy traffic. But you just would not believe the look on peoples’ faces when they see (that moose). It just makes peoples’ day.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]