Donald Hansen, a former State House reporter and longtime editorial page editor for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, died on Aug. 8 after an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 79.
Mr. Hansen spent 34 years working for Maine newspapers as a reporter, editor, political columnist, editorial writer and editorial page editor.
He began his newspaper career in 1957 as an editor at the Boothbay Register. Two years later, he joined the Brunswick Record, also as an editor. In 1960, he began working at the Gannett newspapers as a reporter covering Portland City Hall. He later worked as a State House reporter for 12 years.
As a reporter, Mr. Hansen had a reputation for sorting through complicated municipal and legislative issues while producing clean, well-balanced stories. His experience covering Maine politics led him to co-write the biography of Maine Sen. Edmund S. Muskie, which was published in 1971 when Muskie was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.
In 1973, Mr. Hansen was named editorial page editor of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
He was remembered by former colleagues Monday as a dedicated newspaperman who was widely respected in Maine politics.
“He always wrote what he believed to be true and he did a good job at it,” said M.D. Harmon, a retired columnist and editorial writer for the Press Herald, who is now a freelance writer for the newspaper. “He was respected because he did respectable work. … He took issues seriously, but didn’t take life too seriously. There was always a twinkle in his eye. I’m very sorry to hear that he has passed on.”
Bill Nemitz, a columnist for the Press Herald, recalled Hansen’s presence at the newspaper, saying his “sense of humor was his trademark.”
“I often thought his mission in life was to make as many people as he could smile,” Nemitz said Monday. “If you walked by him in the hallway, he would greet you with the same line. ‘Are we having fun yet?’ … When we were in the newsroom, people were very envious of the editorial department. They always seemed to be having so much fun. He set that tone. I’ve missed him for many years. I’m happy he is at peace.”
Hansen retired in 1991. He was inducted into the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame in 2013. At the induction ceremony, fellow journalist and Hall of Famer Jim Brunelle noted that Hansen “put his special imprint on all his jobs, delivering thousands of informative and interpretive pieces over the years in clear and direct language that consistently respected the intelligence of his readers.”
He was married to his wife, Jill Hansen, for 52 years. The couple lived in Portland and raised two children. His son, Burnett “Jody” Hansen, of Irvington, New York, remembered his father on Monday as a curious and hard-working guy who made a big difference in his life.
“He was an awesome dad,” his son said. “If I ever had to be punished, he wanted to make sure we understood why. The other big lesson I got from him is whatever you do, make sure you can look yourself in the mirror and say I did the best I could. It was that action that got me through some tough times.”
In later years, the Hansens wintered in Portugal, Australia, England and Malta where, his son said, he loved talking to the locals.