NORWAY — When Bill and Bea Damon were asked to cut the ribbon at the 2013 ceremony that re-opened the iconic downtown Norway Opera House, each took a pair of scissors and one by one cut the red ribbon.
Then they turned to each other and smiled.
It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of Bill’s decades of service to the community.
The Norway native who left town only once, early in his career for a job in Connecticut, passed away on August 14 at the age of 85.
He spent most of his life working in and serving the Norway community – almost 30 years as a member of the Board of Selectmen.
Selectman Mike Twitchell, who sat next to Bill for years on the Board of Selectmen, said of him last week, “I want to thank Bill for his service to this country and his long-time service to this community. He was born and raised in Norway. I was shocked when I saw that he had passed. I just saw him the other day. I want to give thanks to everything this good man did for his community, and may God bless him and his family.”
He served the Town of Norway for many years not only as a Selectman, but a budget committee member and as chairman of the Board of Appeals. He was a member of the Foster-Carroll American Legion, Norway Historical Society and The Weary Club.
Over the years, Bill also served as a member of the Advisory Board at White Mountain National Forest, representing the Maine Snowmobile Association, a Boy Scout leader, a member of the Norway Fire Department and past president of Norway Paris Fish & Game.
And perhaps not so well known was the fact that he and his wife loved animals. He and Bea were contributors for years to the work of the local non-profit, no kill animal shelter Responsible Pet Care. Donations in his memory are requested to go to the RPC.
RPC President Shirley Boyce, who also serves as Norway’s long-time town clerk, said the organization is honored and grateful for the gift.
“I always knew them to have a dog up until maybe 5 or 6 years ago,” said Boyce.
“Bill used to say to me quite often, ‘give those puppies a hug for me,’ and then he would grin,” she recalled.
It was his grin, sometimes a mischievous one, that he often showed as he went about his daily wanderings around town.
He always had a story to tell, a joke written on a piece of paper that he would take from his pocket, or a piece of long-forgotten history to tell.
“Here’s a nickel,” he would say with a grin to a reporter as he sat down at a meeting. “Buy yourself an ice cream.”
That was Bill Damon.
He ran his last race – unopposed – for a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen in 2014.
“I’ve lived in Norway all my life,” he said at the time. “ I enjoy putting in some information and the number of great people I’ve worked with.”
Bill often praised those who came before the board for their interest in helping the town and their graciousness in working well with others. If a young person came before the board, he never failed to remind them of the importance of education.
He was first elected to the Board of Selectmen in 1987 and, with the exception of several years, served on the board until 2017 when he made the undoubtedly difficult decision at 84 years of age not to seek re-election.
As selectman and simply as a caring member of the Norway community, Bill felt obligated to do what he could personally to help his community.
In 2005, Bill donated two years of his selectman’s salary to the C.B. Cummings & Sons Mill redevelopment project. The money was to go directly toward the purchase of a statue in recognition of the Cummings family, but the redevelopment project was ultimately unsuccessful.
“My father was working in one of those buildings at the mill the day I was born, over 71 years ago,” Damon told residents gathered at the Town Office that year for a special meeting on the former mill site project.
He stressed the importance of remembering the Cummings family, not just the importance of the mill where many residents had worked for decades.
In 2009, Bill again offered his selectman’s salary, $1,800 as chairman of the board, to help move the dilapidated Gingerbread House, the Cummings family’s long-time home, farther up on Main Street in an effort to restore it. It is currently under restoration through a local organization, and is expected to be re-opened for use in the future.
In his later years, Bill and Bea were able to help the town more financially and Bill was often the first to step up to offer assistance.
He became a leader in the fight to save the formerly state-operated Lake Pennesseewassee Scenic Rest Area across Route 118 from the lake.
Bill and Bea then paid to install a beautiful sign that hangs over the scenic side stop today.
When a rock on Route 117 believed to have been used by Indians to grind corn was threatened with destruction during a state road reconstruction, the couple again came to the rescue paying to have it moved and to have an historical sign installed.
Time and again, Bill tried to come to the rescue.
But his biggest contribution, former Town Manager David Holt and others would always say, was the $200,000 check that Bill and Bea gave the town to save the Norway Opera House, the centerpiece of the Norway Historic District.
The iconic downtown building that was in imminent danger of total collapse in 2007 after a partial roof collapse, would probably have been a pile of rubble had it not been for the generous financial donation of the Damons, officials say.
With the backing of a $200,000 contribution from the Damons, the town took ownership of the colossal, rundown building after the owner failed to properly stabilize the building and refused to sell it to the town at a reasonable price.
“We couldn’t have gotten anywhere if they hadn’t come forward,” said Selectman Bruce Cook after the Damons presented a check for $200,000 to the town that was used to pay the building owner the court-imposed “fair value” of the building.
In March of 2013, more than 100 local and state representatives gathered in the newly restored first floor of the 1894 Norway Opera House to celebrate its revival.
Holt looked around at the myriad of faces who had helped rescue the building including those of Bill and Bea, and said, “This room is filled with heroes.”
“What a moment in history,” added Roxanne Eflin of the Maine Development Foundation, who, along with other state preservation officials, was on hand for the ceremony.
Beaming, Bill and his wife stepped up and cut the ribbon.
Then they turned and smiled at each other.
It was, as is said, a job well done, a life well lived.