SCARBOROUGH – Norman Morse finally got his way.

The 91-year-old Falmouth man, the subject of a July 10 story in the Maine Sunday Telegram that inspired a community dialogue about physician-assisted suicide, died late Friday at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House.

He had been there for a week, after falling and seriously injuring his head in his retirement cottage at OceanView at Falmouth.

“I think it’s time,” Morse told his friend Dusty Blish the day he decided to go to the hospice.

Blish, 63, lives in Falmouth and is the son of Morse’s childhood friend, the late Rhodes Blish of Southport, Conn. He became Morse’s near-constant companion seven weeks ago, after Morse spent two weeks at Maine Medical Center in Portland trying to starve himself to death.

Frustrated by his slow progress, though he’d lost 20 pounds and weakened greatly, Morse checked himself out of the hospital and returned home. Caregivers from Hospice of Southern Maine started visiting him daily.

Morse resumed eating and set his sights on attending a family reunion in September. He also wanted to shepherd recent gifts to Greater Portland Landmarks and the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine, two of several local nonprofits he championed.

“He didn’t get it all done, but his spirit lives on in all of us who knew him,” Blish said Saturday. “In the last days, he wanted so badly to be out of his body.”

Blish spent several hours each day with Morse, taking him to medical appointments and out to dinner, running errands with him, bathing him, talking with him. Married twice, Morse had no children of his own.

“Norman needed me, and I needed him,” Blish said. “He brought me closer to my father and to my hometown. I never really had a relationship with my father, and I left Southport in the hippie days and never really went back.”

Morse contacted the Telegram in late June, saying he wanted to die because the infirmities of old age had so diminished his quality of life. He wanted the public to know what a difficult time he was having carrying out his wishes in a society where euthanasia is illegal.

He’d worn a catheter for two years because of prostate problems. Nearly blind, he recently lost his driver’s license. The former New York City real estate investor, who retired to Portland in 1988, could no longer pilot a sailboat, ride a bicycle, jog a mile or do “a perfect set of push-ups” as he had in the recent past.

Independent, witty, sometimes exacting, he liked nothing more than sipping a gin martini with friends or hosting young musicians at a soiree in his home, and he could do neither without great assistance anymore.

“I’ve lived long enough,” Morse said in July. “Why shouldn’t I be able to end my life in a painless, peaceful and dignified way?”

Morse’s story drew the attention of readers across Maine and around the globe. Most were supportive. Some held fast to religious tenets, saying only God can decide when a person dies.

Morse was encouraged and enlivened by the debate.

“It was a crusade for him,” said his niece Elizabeth Morse of West Stockbridge, Mass. “He felt his cause had been put out there.”

His family, including three nieces, a nephew and six stepchildren, credited Hospice of Southern Maine with easing his concerns in his last weeks.

“His last year was not happy,” Elizabeth Morse said. “But as soon as he went under the wing of hospice, he was able to relax and enjoy himself in a way he hadn’t for months. He was secure in knowing he was going to die with dignity and in comfort. That alone was a gift.”

A professional harpist who teaches at Williams College, Elizabeth Morse was by her uncle’s bedside Wednesday through Friday, playing music he loved for several hours each day. Many friends and family members came to say goodbye. He died quietly at 11:15 p.m.

The family will hold a private tribute to Morse at the reunion in September. A public memorial ceremony will be held in Portland in the spring.

“We’re going to be celebrating his life, not mourning his passing,” she said. “This is what he wanted.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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