Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

December 11, 2011

Former Governor John E. Baldacci talks with Bill Sullivan at the JFK Recognition dinner where they, along with former Bangor Mayor Gerry Palmer received awards for their public service. photo by Ramona du Houx

“John F. Kennedy always gave us hope and opportunities. He made us realize that every one of us can make a difference — we all can. He made us see we can make positive changes and that those changes are greater and last longer when we work together, because no one can do it all by themselves,” said Governor John Elias Baldacci, after he received an award at the Penobscot County Democratic Committee’s first President John F. Kennedy Recognition Dinner last October. “He reminded us of the greatness of America. He inspired us to do more for community and country. For we as a country have no choice but to try and achieve greatness as a county.”

The event commemorated the 48th anniversary of a speech President Kennedy made at the University of Maine on Oct. 19, 1963.

Honored for their significant contributions to Penobscot County and the state of Maine were: Governor Baldacci, former Mayor Gerry Palmer, and William J. Sullivan, a community volunteer and long-time Bangor city councilman.

A Channel 5 newsreel of the speech that President Kennedy delivered at the University of Maine was shown at the dinner. Many people in the audience were present that historic day in 1963. In the speech Kennedy spoke of how continuing open lines of communication with the Soviet Union, which was communist at that time, were vital for national security.

“It was a major policy speech that doesn’t get a lot of attention, because he was assassinated just a month later,” said Paul Davis, the chairman of the Penobscot County Democrats. “I’ve had the idea to recognize the occasion for a number of years.”

After the newsreel ended, a good portion of the audience raised their hands to show that they had been present at the speech. Many politicians from Bangor and their families were inspired by JFK.

“My father was a Kennedy delegate. We grew up with the idea of public service being the right thing to do with your life,” said Baldacci. “When I’d come back from the state Senate to work at the family restaurant, my father would always be waiting for me. The instant that I’d come in the back door he’d stop me and ask me, ‘What did you do for the people today?’ And I’d insist that I’ve got to get out front and get the restaurant set up for customers. He said, ‘I work every day washing the dishes, so you can work for the people.’ Then he’d sit me down, and I’d recount my day.”

All during Baldacci’s eight years as Governor there was a sign in his office reminding him of his father’s principles which he led with that said, “What did you do for the people today?”

“Thank you John for the eight years you gave us as Governor; you did a phenomenal job, especially during the tough times in which you served,” said Congressman Michaud, who spoke about how as a young man he got involved in politics; when working at the mill he witnessed the river being polluted. “JFK motivated all of us to get involved in public service. His call to service still rings true.”

In honor of their public service, Governor Baldacci, Gerry Palmer, and William Sullivan were awarded the first John F. Kennedy Recognition plaques. Each man had high praise of the other, and they all were extremely “Bangor modest.”

“As Kennedy would say, ‘It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’ It’s always easy to be negative because there seems to be more dark clouds than silver linings, but Gerry always saw the silver lining, promoting the best of Bangor. He knew how to lift people’s sprits,” said Baldacci. “Mike is the most honest hard-working individual, I’m very proud to say he is my congressman. And no one can say enough about Bill.”

The dinner was voted on to become an annual event.

“Paul Davis and his entire family did a wonderful job. The evening was inspiring, and the Channel 5 archival tape of JFK’s speech to the University of Maine homecoming was very moving,” said Joe Baldacci, who gave a speech that listed his brother’s achievements. “The speeches by William Sullivan, John Hansen, former Bangor Mayor Gerry Palmer, and my brother John were great.”