PORTLAND — Hundreds of people filled Woodfords Congregational Church on Saturday morning to remember the life of Hattie Bickmore, the first woman to chair the Maine Republican Party.

Bickmore, who led the party between 1978 and 1982, died on March 16. She was 78.

On Saturday, the pews overflowed with friends and prominent Republican officials, including U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

The service was marked by lots of laughter and jokes about Bickmore, who was known for her quick wit and love of humor. Bickmore gave strict instructions to celebrate her life at her funeral and not to grieve, speakers said.

“Everyone just loved Hattie,” Collins said during a short speech.

During the event, Bickmore’s grandchildren also read letters of condolence from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, who both counted Bickmore as a friend.

In recent years, the Westbrook native was known as the “mayor of L.L. Bean” for the fun-loving way she greeted visitors arriving at Bean’s flagship store in Freeport.

Bickmore overcame much adversity in life. 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.

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.

Family and friends were encouraged to drop by DiMillo’s on the Water following the ceremony to hear more stories.