Before he died in June at the age of 89, Franklin Talbot spent much of his life reading, volunteering at a hospital and for his church, bicycling around Portland and finding lasting connections with the people who crossed his path.

The retired reference librarian was known for his wicked sense of humor and the twinkle in his eye, as well as for his generosity. But even his friends may be surprised that Talbot left about $1 million in gifts to colleges, universities and charities across the state, including scholarship funds to help young people afford college.

“He had a sensitivity to people who were struggling,” said the Rev. Jeanette Good of the State Street Church in Portland. “He was a person of profound empathy and compassion.”

Talbot’s generosity was revealed Tuesday when Southern Maine Community College announced that it had received $253,000 from his estate to use for scholarships for Maine students. It’s one of the largest gifts the college’s foundation has ever received, and it came as a surprise to the college.

Talbot, who worked for many years as a reference librarian at the University of Southern Maine, had no known connection to the community college in South Portland – except that years ago he paid tuition for an SMCC student who needed help.

Talbot’s giving was not restricted to the community college. His will outlined more than a dozen significant donations, totaling about $1 million.

Talbot, who graduated from the University of Maine in 1949, left more than $100,000 to the University of Maine Foundation for a scholarship fund in his name; $50,000 to UMaine’s Department of Music for scholarships; and $30,000 to the Franklin Talbot Fogler Library Fund at the university.

The gifts to UMaine add to Franklin Talbot scholarship funds that date back to the 1990s and are now worth about $800,000.

He also left $50,000 to the State Street Church, where he was baptized in 1924 and attended services for the rest of his life. He often sat in the same pew during worship services and, enamored by its history, served as the church’s historian.

Marilyn MacDowell of Portland formed a lasting friendship with Talbot when they worked together at the USM library in 1978. Though she doesn’t know how Talbot acquired his wealth, she wasn’t surprised by his generosity. That, she said, was on display regularly.

“He would read something in the paper and he’d be inspired,” she said, recounting a time he sent money to an injured soldier. Once, after reading about the UMaine marching band, he sent the band money to buy snacks when it traveled to out-of-state games, she said.

MacDowell, who spoke at Talbot’s memorial service in July, said they traveled each year to the campus in Orono, which was Talbot’s “Mecca.”

Talbot, who grew up in Portland, also loved visiting Peaks Island and telling stories of playing on Clapboard Island off the coast of Falmouth as a child, she said.

He had no immediate family in Maine. His will lists modest possessions – such as a watercolor of Portland Harbor, his books and his grandfather’s gold watch – that he left to relatives or friends.

Talbot lived in a modest condo in Ricker Park, a complex off Forest Avenue.

“He loved living at Ricker Park, near (Baxter) Boulevard,” MacDowell said. “He would sit by the window and watch the goings-on at the boulevard.”

Talbot spent many of his days – even in the winter – bicycling around Back Cove to the Eastern Prom, visiting with dogs and people he befriended along the way. When he finally gave up cycling, at age 87, Talbot donated his bike to a local charity.

His friends said Tuesday that they didn’t know if Talbot inherited money or simply invested and saved what he earned.

A spokesman for the University of Southern Maine said it’s not clear what Talbot earned when he worked at the university, from 1963 to about 1990. Today, a reference librarian at USM earns $46,000 to $52,000 a year, depending on experience, said Bob Caswell, the spokesman.

MacDowell said Talbot enjoyed helping students in the library and became a mentor to many. After he retired, co-workers compiled notes from students to Talbot in a notebook, a treasured gift that he spoke of often.

Suzanne Parent, who’s now the collection development law librarian at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, met Talbot while she was working in the library as an undergraduate in 1975, and came to consider him a mentor.

“He had a wicked sense of humor. He was always smiling and had a little twinkle in his eye,” she said.

Talbot encouraged people to pursue education, sometimes stepping in to pay tuition for students who were struggling financially, Parent said.

“That’s just the kind of person he was. He loved people and wanted them to succeed,” she said. “I think he saw the need to help other people who couldn’t get (to school on their own). There he was in the background, helping them along and encouraging them.”

Good, the reverend at the State Street Church, said Talbot was a free spirit and a true Mainer who lived modestly, loved organ music and was innovative in his thinking. She’s not surprised that he would donate his wealth to those who are less fortunate.

“He was his own thinker and he was a profoundly honest and spiritual person,” she said. “He had a real passion for caring for the most vulnerable in our society.”

 

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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Twitter: @grahamgillian