PORTLAND — Popular behind-the-scenes Republican leader Hattie Bickmore left strict instructions for the mourners who attended her memorial service Saturday at Woodfords Congregational Church.

“I want to take this final opportunity to remind you all that I never want you to feel sorry for me. Yes, it has been hard to be a sex symbol all these years, but it has really been my pleasure,” the fun-loving Bickmore said in a letter to her family and friends.

Hundreds of people crowded into the church to remember Bickmore, the first woman to chair the Maine Republican Party. She died March 16 at age 78, two months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

She operated the Maine field office for David Emery when he was a congressman in the 1970s and early ’80s, was executive director of the U.S. Pavilion at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans and assistant director of the Minority Business Development Agency.

She was remembered as an optimist, a die-hard Republican and mayor of L.L. Bean, where she greeted visitors at its information booth for the past 17 years.

The pews were packed with prominent Republicans, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and private citizens who heard stories from those who knew her that left them simultaneously choking back tears and gasping with laughter.

“She thought every single one of you was precious whether you were Republican or Democrat,” said the Rev. Carolyn Lambert, the Woodfords pastor who led the service.

Collins was among a dozen friends and family members who talked about their memories of Bickmore, who in her dying days at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough received words of support from a host of state and national leaders, including former President George H.W. Bush, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Secretary of Defense and U.S. Sen. Bill Cohen of Maine.

Collins said Bickmore repeatedly insisted her friends and family remember the pride and joy she felt for them, rather than remembering the tragedies of her life, which included being left a young widow to raise five young children and outliving two of those children.

“She warned us she would return to haunt us, so I dare not mention the tragedies,” said Collins.

Friend and political ally Tony Payne said Bickmore was good at making people feel they were important by delivering compliments. Payne said Bickmore would call him the smartest man in the world.

“What I really want to know is what did she call Henry Kissinger?” he said.

Friend Ted O’Meara, a political strategist, said that in her final days she never complained or showed any sign that she was in pain or afraid. Instead, he said, all she wanted to talk about was everyone else and their lives.

While she may not have been personally wealthy in terms of dollars, she was wealthy in terms of her relationships and family, said O’Meara.

“She died believing she was the richest woman in Maine,” he said.

In her final letter to her mourners, she reminded those she left behind to remember to vote and not to forget all the good times they shared.

“But the most important thing to remember is that I am going to be watching all of you and I am coming back as a seagull; so keep your eyes to the skies and if I see you thinking ‘poor old Hattie’ – bombs away.” 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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