Ralph Malcolm, at right, is a former Cumberland and North Yarmouth resident dubbed “The Waving Man,” due to the smiles and waves he gave to passersby during his frequent walks in those towns. The 101-year-old is joined at left by his son, Ralph Malcolm Jr. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

NORTH YARMOUTH — Ralph Malcolm was for years a fixture along the sidewalks of Cumberland and North Yarmouth, offering a gentle smile and wave to all those who passed.

Although absent from those streets the past few years, the 101-year-old lit up local social media locally late last year when it was revealed he was still hale and hearty, but had moved to the Hawthorne House assisted living facility in Freeport. This news came to the joy of many, as evidenced by more than 200 “likes” and nearly 50 comments on the town of Cumberland’s Oct. 30, 2019 post about Malcolm, which shared a photo of him with two of his Halloween-garbed grandchildren.

Eliza Porter, the town’s communications director, shared the photo after seeing it posted by Sara Malcolm, Malcolm’s granddaughter-in-law. She did a double-take upon seeing that cheerful face again.

After all these years, I could recognize that smile anywhere,” she said. “It was The Waving Man, the only way I had ever known him up until that moment.”

I had always wondered what happened to him and I felt his absence when I drove through the center of town,” Porter said of a man she called “a staple in our community for so long.”

Her hunch that other members of the community would have a similar reaction was correct. Linda Shane, wife of Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane, was among those who added their thoughts on the town’s Facebook post.

I always loved him and was warmed by his sweet wave,” she wrote. “He was my own Angel! Not knowing his name I referred to him as ‘Clarence,'” which refers to the character from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The outpouring of support, which has come in the form of visits and cards, has warmed not only Malcolm’s heart, but also his son Ralph’s, they said in an interview. The elder Malcolm lived with his son on Cumberland Road (Route 9) in North Yarmouth from 2012-2018, before he moved to Hawthorne House. Before that, he spent roughly a decade at the Hawthorne Court senior facility, located near Greely Middle School in Cumberland.

Per doctor’s orders following a heart issue, Malcolm improved his diet and exercised, “so walking became the ritual,” his son said, noting that he walked 5 to 7 miles a day in three daily treks during his Cumberland years. He walked twice a day in North Yarmouth, down toward the Cumberland line and back, exercising his waving hand as much as his legs.

Not much thought went into the genial gesture; Malcolm called himself “just friendly … I would just automatically do it.”

He is due to turn 102 on March 8; his wife Rosemary, who lives in the Alzheimer’s unit at Hawthorne House, will turn 97 a day earlier. The couple had three children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

When Malcolm was born, Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president and World War I still had eight months before it ended. Growing up in the Penobscot County towns of Plymouth and Etna, Malcolm recalls blocks of ice being sawed and pulled out of a lake each winter. The blocks would then be loaded and packed in sawdust within ice houses to keep perishables cool in the warmer months, in the years before refrigerators were commonly used.

A member of the 45th Armed Division of the U.S. Army in World War II, Malcolm operated a half-track truck and participated in five invasions in Europe, including the 1944 Battle of Anzio. He was awarded the Purple Heart after being hit in the thigh by shrapnel.

There were plenty of times over there he thought his time was up, Malcolm recalled. In one case, his division was split in two, and the left was ambushed and massacred. He happened to be in the right.

That one really hit home with Malcolm, his son recalled: “Sometimes it’s fate.”

Spending most of his adulthood in the Bangor area, Malcolm drove an 18-wheeler for Hannaford Brothers and later drove oil tankers for Hemingway Transport. After retirement, he filled in as a bus driver. Malcolm moved to Gray in 1978, in one of three houses he and his son built together; the duo built his son’s North Yarmouth house in 1981.

Malcolm always said living the clean life contributed to his longevity, his son said, with no drinking or smoking.

He would do things “about the same” had he the chance to do it all again. “I’ve always had a pretty good life,” Malcolm said.

His son recalls the lesson Malcolm imparted on him as a boy: treat others as you’d like to be treated.

And from the reactions of the many people he’s touched with a simple smile and wave, Malcolm has practiced what he preached.

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