September 23, 2012

The making of a man without a party

The former governor's view of the world was shaped long before be ran for public office, and will likely continue to inform his choices.

By Colin Woodard
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Angus King hosts a Maine Public Television program in 1981.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

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JAN. 18, 1995: Newly elected Gov. Angus King bids goodbye to his wife, Mary Herman, as he departs his Brunswick home bound for Augusta. Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel, a Democrat, says King stepped into the role at the right time. “There was a great deal of dissatisfaction with government and partisanship, and Angus then and now had a nonconfrontational nature that was appealing and what the state was looking for,” Maisel says.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of profiles of the U.S. Senate candidates.

"My philosophy is: I call 'em as I see 'em and do what works," he says, though he admits his philosophy was some years in the making.


King was born in 1944 in Alexandria, Va., on the banks of the Potomac just southeast of Washington, D.C., the first son and youngest child of a family with deep roots in that city.

Most of his great-grandparents are buried in the city's cemeteries. His maternal grandfather had been mayor during the Great Depression, an office one of his aunts would hold in the 1990s. An uncle served on the city council while Angus was in grade school and was later chief clerk of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

His father, Angus Sr., was a U.S. magistrate judge and would serve at one time or another as chairman of the city's school committee, Rotary Club and local theater. King and others have described him as a Southern gentleman: mild-manered, courtly and principled. He had met Angus' mother, public school teacher Ellen Ticer King, at the College of William & Mary.

"People erroneously assume that he came from money," says King's first wife, Edie Birney, who knew her in-laws well. "They were community leaders. They were respected, but not moneyed."

King grew up in a comfortable brick two-story home in a leafy new neighborhood on the slope of Seminary Hill on the outskirts of town.

The main gate to the Virginia Theological Seminary -- the U.S. Episcopal Church's largest -- was literally across the street. It had been founded in the early 19th century by the leaders of St. Paul's Church downtown, where King's parents had been married and served on the vestry while his mother was president of the Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of Virginia. King has said that if his mother had been born a generation later, she would have become an Episcopal bishop.

"His father was really a very dear man and a steady churchgoer, and his mother was very much a leader in the church, and looked like Queen Victoria," recalls Birney, who was raised in the Episcopal Church outside Hanover, N.H., and met King when he was studying at Dartmouth College. (She is now a church deacon and married to an Episcopal priest.) "He's steeped in the church."

He attended Hammond High School, where he played football as a defensive back and was elected president of his junior and senior class. He was a 1961 delegate to the American Legion's model government program, Boys State, where his peers elected him "governor" of Virginia. (At the time, The Washington Post ran a photo of 17-year-old King being congratulated by Virginia's actual governor, J. Lindsay Almond.)

King also served on the three-student championship team in the inaugural season of "It's Academic," a television quiz show that is still on the air and is one of the longest-running in broadcast history.

"Everybody knew who Gus was, and we assumed he wanted to be a politician," says classmate George M. Williams Jr., one of King's "It's Academic" teammates. "He was a natural-born leader of that sort and had the ability to get people to work with him on a cooperative basis without looking like he was getting them to work for him. He didn't have to expend effort or advertise himself to do this." Asked if he was surprised that King became a governor and is now a U.S. Senate front-runner, Williams said no. "That kind of thing we would have expected of him," he added.

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CIRCA 1980: Early in his career, King settled in Topsham and was a lawyer in Brunswick.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

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NOV. 9, 1994: Accompanied by his wife, Mary Herman, left, and their son Benjamin, then 4, Angus King holds up a copy of the Portland Press Herald on the day after he was elected governor.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

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JAN. 13, 1997: Gov. Angus King visits Mount View High School in Thorndike to demonstrate a network to electronically connect all Maine schools and libraries to each other and the Internet. King embraced technology in education, and while in office, he initiated the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, an effort to provide laptops for every public middle-school student in the state. The program was the first of its kind in the nation.

The Associated Press file photo by Robert F. Bukaty

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Born in 1944, King grew up in this brick two-story home in a leafy neighborhood on the slope of Seminary Hill on the outskirts of Alexandria, Va.

Colin Woodard photo

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Angus “Gus” King attended Hammond High School in Alexandria, Va., one of the first in the state to integrate.

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King, who was class president in both his junior and senior years, with an unidentified high school classmate.

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King's junior yearbook photo

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