Donald E. Nicoll

PORTLAND – Donald E. Nicoll, 96, of Portland, an architect of the modern Maine Democratic Party and a longtime aide to the late U.S. Senator Edmund S. Muskie and the late U.S. Congressman (later Federal Judge) Frank M. Coffin, died unexpectedly in Miyazaki, Japan on April 3, 2024. Nicoll had traveled there to visit his elder son.

Indefatigably curious and involved in political and community work throughout his long life, Nicoll was a news editor and reporter for WLAM in Lewiston when he was tapped to serve as the executive secretary of the Maine Democratic Party in 1953. In that role, he and his close friend and colleague Frank M. Coffin helped revive Maine’s Democratic party and propel Edmund S. Muskie into the governorship of Maine. Nicoll subsequently built a long career in public service. His work in government was instrumental in creating federal legislation for clean air and water.

In addition to serving Senator Muskie as a legislative assistant, news secretary, administrative assistant (1962-1972) and senior advisor (1972-1996), Nicoll was chairman and CEO, Joint Operations Committee, New England Land Grant Universities (1973-75); vice president for planning and public affairs, Maine Medical Center (1975-86); and an independent program and policy consultant with D&H Nicoll Associates. He led Maine state committees, commissions, and task forces on government organization, state compensation policy, the mental health system, information technology, and telecommunications, and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. A founding member and former chair of the Edmund S. Muskie School Board of Visitors at the University of Southern Maine, Nicoll was also the founding president and an honorary board member of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Foundation.

Donald Eugene Nicoll was born in Boston, Mass. on Aug. 4, 1927, the only child of Mary Margaret Strang Nicoll and George Densham Nicoll. He lived in West Roxbury, Mass., attended Boston public schools, and spent summers with his family in Port Clyde, Nova Scotia. He graduated from Boston English High School in 1945, received a BA from Colby College in 1949, and an M.A. in history and government from Penn State University in 1952.

Don met Hilda Katherine Farnum (also born Aug. 4, 1927) in 1944. They married June 18, 1949, after both graduated from Colby College. They had four children, Hugh, Jonathan, Melissa, and Jessica.

Don and Hilda Nicoll were involved members of Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church and of the Japan-America Society of Maine. They served as good-will ambassadors, hosting many Japanese visitors through JASM and the Maine-Aomori Sister-State program. Don and Hilda’s long partnership fueled Don’s ongoing commitment to social justice, protecting the natural environment, and building a more peaceful world. After Hilda’s death in 2014, Don traveled to Nova Scotia, paddled the Allagash, and journeyed around the country and to Japan, Hilda’s childhood home and the home of his son Hugh.

Don mentored many to the end of his life. His incisive questions and extraordinary memory fostered conversations on a range of topics and inspired a diverse group of individuals. He loved art, books, film, nature, people, and life. One friend said of him, “He seemed to make connections using the barest tidbit or story or data. He knew how to connect.” He was a determined, curious, creative, and forward-looking spirit who will be missed.

Don leaves his four children; his sister-in-law Rosemary Gilson of Penney Farms, Florida; seven grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; as well as many nieces and nephews; and innumerable friends and colleagues.

A memorial service celebrating Don’s life will be held on Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. at Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland.

In lieu of flowers, Don’s family suggests donations to the following:

Allagash Wilderness Waterway Foundation,

PO Box 276

Casco, ME. 04015

Donald and Hilda Nicoll Scholarship Fund,

Edmund S. Muskie School

of Public Service,

University of Southern


P.O. Box 9300,

Portland, ME 04104-9300

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