PORTLAND – Michael Macklin was a master carpenter, but what he really excelled at building was friendships.

“Most people he met by accident,” said Peter Piattoni, who met Macklin in much the same way — at a smoking cessation class a dozen years ago. It was a chance meeting that led to annual trips overseas with Macklin and Macklin’s wife, Donna Pendleton.

“Wherever he was, when he walked away, he walked away as a friend,” Piattoni said of Macklin, who died unexpectedly on May 20 at 62. “He always left having met a new friend.”

Macklin’s life reads like a movie script — “Good Will Hunting,” without a lot of the angst and contrivances. He went from clearly searching for a path in life — a year or so at the University of Michigan, a little time at Northeastern University’s nursing school — to finding his way as a gifted carpenter, landing a job in the maintenance department at Waynflete School and eventually earning an advanced degree in creative writing, and teaching poetry.

The bearded, long-haired Macklin was “Waynflete’s Hagrid,” said Mark Segar, the head of school.

“He encouraged and protected and delighted others” while working as a carpenter, building stage sets, repairing bookshelves and helping to build Franklin Theater, which was filled to overflowing by more than 500 people for a memorial service for Macklin on Friday afternoon.

Peter McPheeters was in that crowd, a member of the school’s board and its buildings and grounds committee.

McPheeters said he wishes he could take credit for hiring Macklin, but that decision was made a few years before he joined the board at the expensive private school in Portland’s West End.

“Whoever did it, it was a brilliant decision,” McPheeters said. “They got a lot more than they bargained for.”

The students, staff members and teachers at Waynflete are encouraged to form a sort of mutual admiration society, McPheeters said, and soak up what’s offered — whether it’s from a teacher with a doctorate or a maintenance worker who could show them how to use a plumb line.

“I think he was the essence of what this school is about,” McPheeters said, and an example “for kids to learn that they can learn from everybody.”

Macklin eventually learned from the students that he could offer even more than his unrivaled carpentry skills. His interactions with others at the school pushed him back to college, this time to the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts for creative writing.

In the past few years, Macklin’s poetry skills led him into the classroom to teach.

There, he surprised James Millard, an English teacher at Waynflete who taught a poetry class with Macklin.

“You sit down next to a carpenter and a feminist starts talking to you,” read one line in a poetic tribute that Millard read at the memorial service.

“I have four natural brothers — and that was plenty — but if I could pick one more, it would be Michael,” Millard added.

Macklin’s gift was treating everyone the same, said Betsy Sholl, a former Maine poet laureate.

“Nobody was either too big or too small for Michael,” she said. “That was Michael. If you were a living being, he loved you.”

“In each person — or dog, or bird — he met, Michael saw a spark of something,” said Melissa Crowe, an English professor at the University of Maine Presque Isle.

“He was the most nonjudgmental person I’ve ever met,” said Piattoni. He “always managed to take the high road.”

Piattoni said he and Macklin would take scores of pictures on their trips, but Macklin’s bent was “esoteric,” with pictures of doorknobs, stairs, downspouts.

“Rather than take a picture of a vase in Pompeii, he would take a picture of fragments of a vase,” he said. “You had no idea where the picture was taken.”

Even though both Piattoni and Macklin had digital cameras, they preferred film, he said. Film’s limitations — only so many frames per roll, compared to virtually limitless photos for digital cameras — forces the photographer to think before clicking the shutter, he said.

It’s an approach that Macklin encouraged in life as well as photography.

Asked to give last year’s baccalaureate address, Macklin urged graduating seniors to step away from the computer, stop texting on the cellphone and disengage occasionally.

“We need to remember how to be slow, how to savor each moment,” Macklin said. “When our daily lives are tied to the high-speed lifestyle of the computer age, entering stillness can be difficult to achieve. While it is wonderful to be able to communicate across the globe in a heartbeat or to travel from one side of the planet to another in a few short hours, we pay a high price for these things. The faster we go, the less deeply we experience our lives.”

It’s easy to sense Macklin putting that perspective into practice in the poem, “Before Coffee,” which was printed in the program for Friday’s memorial service:

“Every morning the dark-robed crows

congregate in the pines at the edge of my yard,

sitting in small groups grumbling

until I step onto the lighted porch.

 

They grow quiet as monks,

cock their heads and mumble

perhaps in Latin

and we share an early prayer.

a magnificat for another day.

 

All winter we have met like this at dawn,

wind fluttering their black cassocks

as they peer down their noses

to view me at my lessons.

 

For a moment we inhale the crackling air

until they rattle with impatience, cackle

at my feeble attempts to see the face of God,

and the old men in the trees fly off.”

Macklin worked hard at his poetry and those words will endure, but for his brother Timothy Macklin, it was the way he ended phone conversations that will stay with him.

“Now give your boy a hug and a kiss and my love,” Timothy Macklin remembers his brother saying. “And take some for yourself.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

 

Melissa Crowe reads Macklin’s poem titled “Lost Uncle” 

 

Betsy Sholl reads Macklin’s poem “Esther Williams and a Friend Summering Off the Maine Coast”