John Downing Family photo

John Downing, a prominent Kennebunk Realtor and community leader, died Monday after a period of declining health. He was 85.

He owned Downing Real Estate Agency in Kennebunk for 64 years and was remembered this week as an honest, respected man with a passion for helping customers buy their first homes.

His two children, Sam and Susan Downing, have worked at their father’s agency for 15 and 17 years, respectively. His daughter said Thursday that he continued to advise them on real estate matters until his death. Whenever they needed help, he was there for guidance and support, she said.

“He had seen so many different things and every transaction is different,” Susan Downing said. “So, when we ran into a unique problem, he was very good at helping solve that because of the wealth of experience he had. He was a people person and he cared about people. … People respected him because he was kind, helpful and sincere.”

A lifelong Kennebunk resident, Mr. Downing grew up on a dairy farm. When he was young, his father would wake him at 4 a.m. to deliver milk in glass bottles to people’s doorsteps in the Kennebunk area.

He graduated from Kennebunk High School, earned a business degree at Nasson College in Springvale and started his career in real estate. He briefly worked for another firm before starting his own agency.


John Downing Family photo

Sam Downing said his father loved interacting with people.

“He knew everybody and enjoyed everybody,” his son said. “A huge number of people bought their first house through him or from him. That’s what he really enjoyed in the real estate world was working with first-time buyers.”

The Downing siblings will continue to operate the real estate business.

“It’s exactly what he would have wanted,” his daughter said.

He was married to Nancy Downing, his high school sweetheart, for 62 years and they raised two children. He played football and she was a cheerleader.

Their daughter reflected on their life Thursday, comparing her parents to Ozzie and Harriet, a television sitcom couple in the 1950s and 1960s.


“They had an awesome life together,” she said.

Mr. Downing was an active member of local and state real estate associations and was a past president of the York County Board of Realtors. He was also a former trustee for the University of New England.

Mr. Downing was a fixture in the community and longtime member of York Lodge No. 22 – AF&AM, based in West Kennebunk. He was a member of the Masons for 63 years and a member of its Royal Arch Mason Chapter.

George Pulkkinen of Scarborough, a member of York Lodge and past grand master of the state of Maine, remembered Downing on Friday as an honest, positive and fun person who touched many lives.

“He’s been a great friend,” Pulkkinen said. “Riding through the streets of Kennebunk didn’t seem right knowing John isn’t part of it anymore. I could feel the absence of John Downing. It was extraordinary. Kennebunk is going to really miss John. I think anyone who knew John is going to miss him. I know I’ll miss him.”

John Downing Family photo

Mr. Downing was a member of the Kennebunk Rotary Club for more than 50 years. At the time of his passing, he served as sergeant at arms, which involved fining fellow Rotarians for any reason he could think of. The fines were used to support its annual Christmas party for children from low-income families.


“John loved our Christmas party and how much it meant to the children,” said Robert MacKenzie, Kennebunk police chief and a member of the Rotary’s board of directors. “This was just one of many examples of John’s love for Rotary and our community, and what could be accomplished when we work together. … We all learned from him and his example motivates all of us to be better Rotarians and a better human being. Although John will be missed, his legacy will carry on and he will always live within our hearts.”

Downing was instrumental in the development of Rotary Park and served as master of ceremonies for the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting. He attended his last Rotary meeting on Zoom last week. Fellow Rotarians met Thursday and shared stories and memories.

Kim Chilton, president of the Rotary Club of Kennebunk, said Thursday that Downing was the quintessential Kennebunk resident who knew the town’s history and was involved in everything. Chilton said she recently had the opportunity to thank Downing for helping her find her voice and the confidence to stand on her own.

“It’s a huge loss,” Chilton said, reflecting on her 17 years in Rotary and being a woman in a predominantly male club. “It didn’t take me too long to figure out that if I sat next to John, I would have a much better experience and have a lot more fun. And with John next to me, my voice would be heard and I could actually make some things happen. We had so much fun. John and I had a blast together.”

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