WESTBROOK — Not everyone gets firetrucks for their birthday.

But then again, Bill O’Gara isn’t an ordinary citizen.

A former Westbrook mayor, longtime state legislator, retired history teacher, basketball coach and Maine Turnpike worker, O’Gara was honored with a COVID-19-style, drive-by 90th birthday party on Saturday.

One hour into the celebration, there was a bit of a traffic jam on Cardinal Street as two firetrucks, cars and pickup trucks maneuvered around each other after driving up to wish O’Gara happy birthday. On his front porch, bundled up in winter gear, O’Gara beamed. His wife of 65 years, Beverly, was by his side.

Beep, beep, beep, cars honked as they drove by. “Happy birthday! Stay warm,” yelled out one driver.

“Hi Bill! Mike and Sheryle Towle. The old Mahoney days!” said Mike Towle, who taught with O’Gara at what was then Mahoney Junior High School in South Portland. “Happy birthday! A lot of good memories, Bill.” Sheryle approved of the drive-by birthday celebration. “This is awesome. It’s safe. It’s something he’ll remember.”

Don and Kathy Esty of Raymond wave to Bill O’Gara. Don, who also served as mayor of Westbrook and served as Maine Senate Majority Leader, said that he started his career serving on Westbrook’s City Council while Bill was mayor. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Don and Kathy Esty walked up on the front lawn. “Where’s that old guy?! We won’t come too close, but we wanted to stop by and say happy birthday,” said Don, a fellow former Westbrook mayor.

Former neighbors Chris and Athena Perry came with their son, Elijah, and four-legged pointer Chocorua. Young Elijah held up a “Happy 90th birthday Bill” sign as the family’s truck slowly drove by.

Heads turned when the firetrucks with lights flashing, and a fire van, drove up. The fire department representatives were led by Westbrook Fire Department Deputy Chief Gary Caron.

“Bill was the mayor here for many years. He helped us out a lot in fire service,” Caron said. If seeing Westbrook firetrucks pull up makes O’Gara smile, if it adds to his day, “it’s the least we can do for him,” Caron said. “He was a great mayor for the city for many years. It’s owed to him. And he’s 90 years old.”

The celebration was organized by O’Gara’s two children, retired nurse Beth O’Gara and L.L. Bean employee Mike O’Gara. With COVID-19 cases climbing by the hundreds each day in Maine, it’s a way to safely hold a community observation of O’Gara’s 90th birthday.

“We wanted to honor dad and do it in the safest way possible,” Mike said. “We wanted to invite the community and let them help celebrate. The community’s been a big part of dad’s life. He’s was his high school class president. He’s been a mayor, state representative and senator. He’s been a dedicated public servant.”

O’Gara was born on Dec. 6, 1931. He grew up on Longfellow Street in Westbrook. He graduated from Westbrook High School and Springfield College, served in the Air Force, and was elected mayor in 1974 and served five terms. On Monday night, newly elected Westbrook city officials will be sworn into office, and they will honor O’Gara, his daughter Beth said.

Bill O’Gara’s children helped arrange the celebration of his 90th birthday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

O’Gara represented Gorham, Westbrook and Standish in the Maine House of Representatives before serving in the Maine Senate. After retiring, he worked as a Maine Turnpike toll taker and was a ticket taker at Portland Sea Dogs baseball games. “His lines were the longest because he knew everybody,” Beth said.

The secret to a long, happy life, O’Gara said, “is a wonderful wife and children. Lots of friends.” He wore a shirt that read, “This is what an awesome 90 year old looks like.”

Recalling his years in public service, O’Gara said he enjoyed the work. He also treasured the ability to teach. “History is important.” And helping and coaching students gave him satisfaction. “It isn’t always easy, but I loved the kids.” But he was not impressed by some of the parents, O’Gara added.

Before the 11 a.m. drive-by start time, family members hung a big banner in the front yard. Balloons tied to the mailbox swayed. A lawn sign read: “Honk, it’s my birthday.”

O’Gara took it all in and smiled. “I hope one or two cars show up.”

He got his wish.


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