Harold Osher, right, signs documents to make official his donation of 450,000 maps, valued at $100 million, to the University of Southern Maine during a news conference at the Portland campus in 2018. At left is the university’s then president Glenn Cummings. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Dr. Harold L. Osher, a respected physician, philanthropist and renowned map collector has died. He was 99.

Osher died Saturday in Portland, according to an obituary provided by his family. He had been living at The Cedars since 2018, his daughter said.

Physician, philanthropist and map collector Harold Osher, seen in 2014, died Saturday at 99. He and his wife gifted their initial map collection to the University of Southern Maine in 1989, and followed that up in 2018 by giving USM its largest gift ever, a collection of 450,000 maps worth more than $100 million. Courtesy of Osher family

Osher was born in Portland on Jan. 11, 1924, to Samuel and Leah (Lazarovich) Osher, immigrants from Russia and Lithuania.

He grew up in Biddeford and graduated from Biddeford High School. He and his siblings worked with their parents at their Biddeford hardware store – Sam’s Place – where they learned the values of education, hard work and philanthropy.

Osher attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick and the Boston University School of Medicine. After completing his residency and fellowship at Boston hospitals, Osher married Peggy Liberman. The couple decided to move to Maine to raise a family.

His family said he established a thriving private practice in Portland and was deeply devoted to his patients during a medical career that spanned 45 years.


“He was a kind, caring physician and a true gentleman,” said a daughter, Nancy Osher Blumberg, of Yarmouth.

He eventually joined Maine Medical Center and served as the chief of its cardiology division for 16 years. His family said he provided “gentle, astute care of patients.” He helped establish a regional coronary care program through which physicians in rural areas could receive consultation on cardiac care issues remotely.

Osher also served as president of the Maine affiliate of the American Heart Association. Osher had faculty appointments at several medical schools in New England where he taught and mentored young doctors.

Toward the end of his career, Osher rekindled a childhood interest in maps.

One visit to the British Library in London in 1975 made an impression on his family. He and his wife visited an exhibition of early maps before exploring some nearby map shops where Osher asked to see maps of Maine and New England. His wife asked, “Well, if you love them so much, why not buy some? And if you don’t, I will!”

He and his wife began collecting maps on visits to London and Europe. During that time, they developed relationships with map dealers while scouring rare book and map shops, eBay, flea markets, book fairs and paper shows in their search for valuable maps.


“He had a network of (map) dealers,” said a son, Sam Osher, of Lexington, Massachusetts. “He became enthralled with maps. It became a vocation after his medical career.”

In 1989, the Oshers gifted their map collection to the University of Southern Maine, combining it with another collection to create the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education. The library is located at 314 Forest Ave. on USM’s Portland campus.

An engraved detailed plan of the Portland waterfront from 1856 that is part of the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine. Courtesy of the Osher Sheet Map Collection

In 2018, the Oshers followed up their initial donation by giving USM its largest gift ever, a trove of 450,000 rare maps worth an estimated $100 million, including a 1475 map of the Holy Land. In addition to the maps, Osher gave USM an undisclosed amount of cash to supplement an existing $3 million endowment for the library that he previously funded.

“As a public historian, one of the things I appreciate the most about Dr. and Mrs. Osher’s vision for their collection was their strong desire to place it in a library at a public university, where it functions as a centerpiece of university education and outreach, remains open to the general public, and serves a key educational resource for K-12 students and teachers in Maine and beyond,”  Libby Bischof, executive director of the Osher Map Library, said in an email Tuesday night.

“Their generosity ensures that these rare cartographic materials, many of them hundreds of years old, will continue to educate and inspire generations of students and scholars alike well into the future,” Bischof said.

Osher spent many hours in his office at the map library where he invited people to exhibitions, conferences and symposia. When he spoke about a map’s unique history and qualities, his passion for maps could convert even the least interested person into a “lover of rare maps and atlases,” Bischof said.


His children said their father’s generosity was driven by his love for Portland and the state of Maine.

“My father loved Maine and he loved Portland,” his son said. “He felt he wanted to provide a gift that helped put USM in a higher echelon. He saw the maps as a resource that would help with the cultural enrichment of the state of Maine.”

“He was a humble philanthropist, a person who cared deeply about the state of Maine,” his daughter said.

Osher and his wife, who died in 2018, also donated their collection of Winslow Homer prints to the Portland Museum of Art.

Funeral services will be held at Etz Chaim Synagogue, 267 Congress St. in Portland, at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Masks are encouraged.

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