WESTBROOK — Harry Foote, the founder of the American Journal newspaper in Westbrook, died Monday at the age of 96.
Foote, a longtime resident of Portland, died at his home.
He and the weekly newspaper he published were legendary for dogged coverage of local and state news.
“Harry was never afraid of upsetting people if the story was there,” said Tim Allen, a former American Journal reporter, in 1999, when Foote was inducted into the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame.
Allen, who nominated Foote for the Hall of Fame, told the Portland Press Herald that Westbrook’s politicians loved Foote, hated him and feared him.
“He lives and breathes the news and the newspaper,” former Westbrook Mayor Donald Esty Jr. told the Press Herald at the time. “Whether you agree or disagree with Harry Foote, you’ve got to respect the tremendous efforts he’s made. Harry has become a legend in many ways in this city.”
Foote was born in 1915 in Woodlawn (now Aliquippa), Pa., the third of four sons. His father was a surveyor and insurance salesman; his mother was a schoolteacher.
He attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where he majored in English and wrote for the college newspaper, the Orient.
After graduating in 1938, Foote was hired as a reporter for the Guy Gannett Publishing Co.’s Kennebec Journal in Augusta.
He then worked as a reporter for the Portland Evening Express, as well as the Press Herald.
After serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, Foote returned to Portland and rose through the ranks to the position of city editor in charge of news for the Press Herald, the Evening Express and the Maine Sunday Telegram.
In 1965, he left the Portland newspapers to acquire the Westbrook American and the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Journal.
Three years later, Foote merged those papers into the weekly American Journal. He published and edited the paper until he retired in 2002 and sold it to Current Publishing, which still publishes the American Journal.
Thomas Foote, a son who lives in Bowdoinham, remembers the editorials and stories his father wrote, shortly after he established the American Journal, about a proposed oil refinery in Sanford.
“That proposal was slowly and progressively taken apart by my father,” he said. “He was ahead of some of the larger papers like Guy Gannett on that story.”
Another son, Raymond Foote of Portland, worked with his father at the American Journal.
He described his father as independent, curious and a person who loved digging deep into stories involving government and local politics.
“We were often on a different course than other newspapers,” he said. “We weren’t your pat-you-on-the-head, good boy newspaper.
“My father was a newsman’s newsman. … He wouldn’t suck up to the powers that be,” said Raymond Foote.
Though he wasn’t active in recent years, his family said Foote’s health remained good until recently, and his interest in the news never faltered.
In his obituary, family members said he would ask “What’s it say?” if he heard someone rattling a newspaper, or he would ask, “Read me a headline.”
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anne, and four children.
A visiting hour and brief memorial service will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Jones, Rich and Hutchins Funeral Parlor, 199 Woodford St. in Portland.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: