Inspiration to succeed can come from unexpected places. This was the humorous message outgoing U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell delivered after being inducted Wednesday night into the Maine Business Hall of Fame by Junior Achievement of Maine.

During the dinner at the Marriott Sable Oaks in South Portland, Mitchell told the more than 330 people in attendance that his brothers Paul, John and Robby were his main source of inspiration. Just not in the way you’d think.

Growing up, Mitchell’s brothers were natural athletes.

“Then I came along and I was not as good an athlete as any of my brothers or as good as any other brothers,” said Mitchell, a former U.S. senator from Maine.

Fast forward to 1980, when Sen. Edmund Muskie resigned to become Secretary of State and Gov. Joe Brennan called Mitchell at 11 p.m. the night before he had to announce a replacement to say he wanted to appoint Mitchell, who was serving as a federal judge.

Mitchell asked for some time to think about it, and Brennan gave him an hour.

“So I called my brothers,” Mitchell told us, adding that he may have had a note of triumph in his voice when he announced the news and asked for advice about what he should do.

“My brother Johnny said to me, ‘Everyone knows you’re a born loser and you couldn’t possibly win a general election,”‘ Mitchell said with a twinkle in his eye. “Paul and Robby repeated the advice in a less polite manner.”

Mitchell promptly called the governor back and told him he didn’t need an hour to decide because “I’ve all the reassurance I need.”

Following Mitchell into the Maine Business Hall of Fame were Brenda Garrand, who owns the marketing communications firm Garrand, and Bruce and Bill Chalmers, who own the Chalmers Insurance Group.

All four were selected because they’ve contributed to Maine’s economy and sense of community and serve as role models for the students who participate in Junior Achievement’s K-12 financial and business literacy programs. They join a select group of hall of famers, which reads like a who’s who of Maine business leaders.

Before the awards presentation at the event that raised more than $40,000 for the organization, we heard from Erin Martin, a middle school student at St. James School in Biddeford, who has participated in Junior Achievement programs.

“I learned the importance of budgeting money and not spending more than you have,” Martin told the crowd. “I hope next year’s students benefit from these programs. I know I have.”

When he returned to the stage, Master of Ceremonies Lee Nelson, who’s an anchor on WCSH-6, got a laugh from the crowd when he said “so you don’t spend more than you make? I think that’s what my parents were trying to tell me my freshman year in college.”

When he addressed the dinner guests, Junior Achievement Board Chair Jeffrey Laniewski told us about the growth of Junior Achievement in Maine, noting that the organization will add a seventh regional board this year in Aroostook County. This past year, the organization’s volunteers taught more than 8,500 kids.

Junior Achievement of Maine President Amy Thomas confirmed this growth, saying to the crowd, “Junior Achievement has experienced a 20 percent increase in class requests this year.”

During dinner I had the pleasure of joining the Dead River Company table. The business was the event’s major sponsor, and I enjoyed the dinner and program with Bob Moore, the company’s president and CEO, Brad Hunter, Diana Stafford, Alan Dorr, Claudette Townsend, Casey Crampton, Gerry Tracy and Tom Schwarm of Acadia Environmental Technology. I sat between Deanna Sherman and Guy Langevin, who both serve on the Junior Achievement of Maine board.

One of the things we chatted about was the organization’s Titan Challenge for high school students, which attracted 60 teams this year.

“It’s a computer simulation program that the kids run and they make business decisions,” Sherman told me.

At the end of the daylong simulation, the team that is the most profitable wins and each team member is awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

“It’s a terrific event,” Langevin added.

He told me how his son, who formerly wanted to go into law enforcement, participated in the Titan Challenge. The event caused him to change his career aspirations, and now he plans to attend the University of Maine at Farmington to study recreation management.

“MEA testing has requirements around economics,” Langevin told me, “which is part of the reason why demand (for Junior Achievement programs) is increasing. This is one of the long-term solutions to Maine’s struggling economy.”

This echoed what Junior Achievement volunteer and member of the midcoast regional board Kim Benjamin told me during the cocktail reception about the importance of the organization’s age-appropriate curricula.

“In today’s economy, it’s never been more important to learn financial literacy,” Benjamin said.

And when financial and business acumen mix with the proper inspiration, we have the makings of a future Maine Business Hall of Fame member.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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