WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former U.S. Sen. William D. Hathaway, a Democrat who represented Maine in Congress from the mid-1960s to the late-1970s, has died at age 89.
Hathaway’s death was announced Monday evening by independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who got his first exposure to Capitol Hill politics as a young staffer in Hathaway’s Senate office. King, who also served two terms as governor, called Hathaway “a dear friend (and) cherished mentor.”
“Indeed, I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work for Bill, and I will always treasure the sage wisdom and advice he provided to me throughout the years, both as governor and as senator,” King said in a statement. “His example is one that continues to inspire me each and every day.”
Others remembered Hathaway as a jovial but gentle politician who loved to get out into rural Maine to meet people.
“Bill had a hell of a personality. I never saw anybody who liked more people,” said Clarence “Chub” Clark, who served as Hathaway’s representative in Aroostook County during his congressional career and had remained close friends with him ever since. “He was very honest and very hardworking.”
Born in Massachusetts, Hathaway joined the military just after graduating from high school in the middle of World War II and served as a crew member on a B-24 bomber. He flew 13 missions before his plane was shot down during a bombing raid over German-held Romania several weeks after D-Day in June 1944.
Several crew members were killed and Hathaway was injured, but he managed to parachute to the ground. The Romanian farmer who found him turned him in to the Germans — despite Hathaway’s giving him his watch, he would later say — and he was held as a prisoner of war before the camp was liberated by the Russians.
Back in the U.S., he attended Harvard Law School and eventually set up a law practice in Lewiston. He served for a time as assistant county attorney in Androscoggin County. He won the race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 1964 and would serve four terms in the U.S. House before deciding to run for the U.S. Senate.
In 1972, Hathaway defeated Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, a legend in Maine politics and one of the longest-serving women in congressional history. He served one term in the Senate. He was defeated in 1978 by Republican William S. Cohen.
Clark fondly recalled how, when campaigning with Hathaway, they were always running behind schedule because he could never turn down an invitation or resist stopping to talk to people. Although Hathaway lived in the Washington, D.C., area, he and Clark still reunited in Augusta every year until three or four years ago.
“I’m going to miss him,” he said.
In January, Hathaway was one of the stars of the party at a pre-inauguration reception for politically connected Mainers that was held in Washington. At the reception, Hathaway joked with King — his former staffer newly sworn in as senator — and posed for pictures with other guests.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, mentioned the event while remembering Hathaway on Monday.
“Bill Hathaway was a wonderful person and good friend,” Collins said in a statement. “I last talked with him in January at an inaugural reception for Mainers at the New Zealand embassy. Despite being in a wheelchair, he was as chipper and engaged as ever.”
Hathaway was serving as chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission in June 1994 when he was asked to accompany President Clinton and other federal officials to Europe to observe the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
He and his wife, Mary, who was an Army nurse during World War II, flew on Air Force One with the president.
Although Hathaway was stationed in Italy on the day that Allied Forces stormed the beaches at Normandy, he said he and other members of his unit were proud to be helping destroy the German war machine elsewhere.
“We saw (D-Day) as the beginning of the end …” Hathaway said in a June 1994 article published in the Portland Press Herald.
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