NORWAY — A downtown businessman described as the “bedrock” of Norway has died.
John Marlin Longley, owner of L.M. Longley & Sons Hardware Store on Main Street, died Saturday, Jan. 23, at Stephens Memorial Hospital less than a month after the big wooden and glass doors to the landmark store – that had been been in his family since 1902 – closed for good.
“It’s a sad day,” said Shirley Huff of Norway.
News of his death spread quietly and caught some by surprise.
“I respected him not only as a friend but a businessman. The town was lucky to have him,” said Huff.
Calling him a “bedrock” of Norway, Town Manager David Holt – one of two trustees of the Higgins Crooker Trust that owned the Longley building – spoke Tuesday about his contributions to the community.
“I always thought they were great. When I thought of Norway, I thought of John. He represented what what Norway was,” said Holt.
Longley, most recently of Casco, was a longtime Norway resident who participated in most of the community boards including the Norway Zoning Board, Norway Water District, Norway Appeals Board, Soil and Water Conservation District and served in the Norway Fire Department.
He lived in Casco with his wife, Caroline, and in addition to his wife, leaves his brother, Charles Longley, of Norway; sons Jonathan Longley of South Paris and Fred of Wisconsin; four grandchildren, and three step-daughters, Georgine, Cathy and Caroline.
He began working at Longley’s at age 4 doing chores and with the exception of two years in the Army and a brief stint at a tractor dealer, he spent the rest of his life at the hardware store becoming a certified master plumber, master electrician and master of heating and cooling.
“It’s really quite an Americana story,” said The Rev. Don Mayberry of the First Congregational Church in Paris, who has been asked to conduct the funeral services, of Longley and the L.M. Longley & Sons Hardware Store. Rev. Peter Foss, interim pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Norway will co-officiate at the funeral service to be held on Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. in the Norway Church.
His former employee, Mike Marshall, called him a teacher.
“I learned an awful lot. He was a great teacher for all his employees,” said Marshall, who came to Longley’s about dozen years ago with a background in retail and construction. He learned the plumbing and heating business through his ties to the business.
Marshall spoke of Longley’s expertise in his business. According to his obituary, Longley earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Maine where he was a member of Tau Beta Pi (the second oldest American Academic Honors Society) and he obtained his Master of Science in Sanitary Engineering from the University of Illinois.
“He spent as much time as we needed,” said Marshall of Longley’s generosity of his time and expertise.
Marshall said Longley also had an “open door” policy for his employees. If there was an issue to discuss, an employee only had to knock on his office door and walk in.
“He would listen to me, which is important. He had an open door policy. We talked as long as I wanted to talk,” said Marshall.
Although Marshall said Longley sometimes appeared to be a quite serious person to many, those who knew him well understood he had a wonderful sense of humor and enjoyed practical jokes and cartoons.
“If I saw a cartoon that tickled my fancy I would bring it to John,” said Marshall. While Longley did not read the comics often, Marshall said they both would have a good laugh over cartoons like Dilbert.
“He really did have a good sense of humor,” said Marshall, who was close in age to Longley and considered him to be like a big brother.
Longley, whose father and grandfather had operated the store at 419 Main St. since 1902, always enjoyed bringing students through the historic 1867 three-story brick building showing them antique tools, wooden clothes racks, metal sap buckets and nails of all types. Downstairs in the plumbing shop, Longley would fire up a pipe-threading machine so the young people could hear the loud whir.
“John was icon of Main Street who contributed and supported the community personally and through his business, which anchored Main Street,” Andrea Burns, president of Norway Downtown, said. “He gave to the community in so many ways.”
On Nov. 12, 2015, Longley finally decided it was time to retire.
The store remains empty for the time being, but Holt said he hopes another commercial venture will be occupying the site soon.
“I never thought in a million years that Longley’s would close,” said a woman who lives across the street in downtown Norway. She said Mr. Longley used to let her sit on the wooden steps leading up to the store and watch him water his flowers in the long planters that graced the large front windows.
“He was great,” she said.
(Funeral services will be held at the Second Congregational Church in Norway at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 7. The funeral is under the direction of Hall Funeral Home in Casco. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Norway Volunteer Fire Department at 19 Danforth St., Norway, ME 04268. Service information and to leave a note of condolence for the family can be accessed at hallfuneralhomeinc.com. )