Hattie M. Bickmore, the first woman to chair the Maine Republican Party, and who was best known in recent years as the “mayor of L.L. Bean” for the fun-loving way she greeted visitors arriving at Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, died on Friday. She was 78.

During her illness this year, Mrs. Bickmore received calls from well-wishers from around the country, including former President George H.W. Bush and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

She overcame much adversity in life.

She grew up in Westbrook. Her parents were so poor that she was raised by relatives and was later adopted.

At age 18, after graduating from Wesbtrook High School, she enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1967, at age 32, her husband, Harold Bickmore, drowned in a boating accident off the coast of Falmouth. She was left with five children to raise, between the ages of 1 month and 12 years old. The baby was born with mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

She taught her children to work hard and never to feel sorry for themselves, said her daughter, Susan Bickmore Downey of Cumberland.

“It was never poor Hattie, or poor any of us,” she said. “It was just how blessed we are to have a strong family.”

“She had a tough life, but never used it as a crutch,” said her son, Pete Bickmore of Cleveland, Ohio.

Mrs. Bickmore had a wonderful sense of the humor and a zest for life that were evident even during her very last days, said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“Hattie Bickmore was a dear friend who always lifted everyone’s spirits and demonstrated incredible strength and resilience as she dealt with a series of tragedies in her life,” Collins said in a statement.

Mrs. Bickmore’s interest in politics began when she moved to Cumberland in 1964 and became a member of the Republican Town Committee. She became more involved after the death of her husband and was elected as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1968, the first of many national conventions for her.

Gov. Kenneth Curtis chose her to represent Cumberland County on his Executive Council in 1974. Between 1978 and 1982, she served as the first woman chair of the Maine Republican State Committee.

She headed the field office for David Emery during his three terms as a Maine congressman between 1975 and 1982.

In 1983, she directed volunteer operations for the Summit of Industrial Nations and the following year became executive director of the U.S. Pavilion at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. She was also special assistant to the director of the Minority Business Development Agency.

Mrs. Bickmore was a moderate Republican at a time when moderates were the heart of the Maine Republican Party, but she was also “militant” in the sense that she fought hard for the interests of the party, said Tony Payne, who was executive director of the party at the time Mrs. Bickmore was chair.

“She worked tirelessly to make sure we had a party that worked and had a big tent,” he said. “She had a very big heart, and a big vision of what the party ought to be.”

For the past 17 years, she worked at the information booth at L.L. Bean and greeted visitors. During the summer, she worked for a tour company and gave tours for visitors arriving in Portland on cruise ships.

She never forgot jokes she heard, and she loved to tell them, said her daughter, Susan Downey.

Even though she owned a condominium in Florida, she spent winters in Maine because she loved the state, said another daughter, Brenda Bidwell of Florida.

Bidwell said her mother loved promoting Maine to tourists. “She was a great ambassador for the state and the Greater Portland area.”

Her last mission in her life was to raise money for the Gosnell Hospice House in Scarborough. She was admitted to the hospice after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer eight weeks ago.

In an e-mail from China, Bill Cohen, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and former U.S. Senator, R-Maine, said Bickmore’s “mighty heart” made an indelible mark on everyone she met.

“(She) loved the rough and tumble of politics but also loved the people in it,” he said. “She brought good cheer, a ready smile, and a mighty heart to all of her endeavors. Once you knew Hattie, you had a friend for life.”

A memorial service will be held at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland on Saturday morning. The time has yet to be determined.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at

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