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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 20, 2012
Blue Hill community mourns the sudden deaths of town officials, former selectman

Blue Hill’s Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Duane Gray

Blue Hill’s Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Duane Gray, died on September 16. Gray dedicated his life to public service and will surely be missed by many. Here, he looks over paperwork before a special town meeting held August 3.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Faith DeAmbrose

In the course of 48 hours, the town of Blue Hill lost public officials who made a difference in the community they loved.

Deputy Town Clerk and Tax Collector Janet Butler Torrey, 51, and Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Duane Gray, 66, died unexpectedly this past weekend on Saturday morning, September 15, and Sunday morning, September 16, respectively.

On Monday morning, September 17, former selectman Julia “Judy” Danico Eaton died after battling an illness. Eaton was the first and only female selectman in Blue Hill history, as near as anyone can remember.

All three were graduates of George Stevens Academy and lifelong contributors to the town they were proud to serve.

“He was so unique; I’ve never met anyone like Duane,” said Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz on Monday, September 17.

The two remaining selectmen closed the town office to business that day, but left the doors open to allow for members of the community to express their condolences and share their memories. Community members and flowers came through the door all day. Town Clerk Etta Perkins and Administrative Assistant and Treasurer Ann Stadden sorted through files on Torrey’s desk, taking brief pauses to wipe tears from their eyes and arrange the flowers and cards that came in.

“We are a family here,” said Perkins, “and it is like losing members of your family.”

Gray spent all of his adult life in public service in one form or another. He served on the town’s school board, was a long time member of the budget committee and a staunch advocate for the cemetery association, a water trustee, and more recently the chairman of the board of selectmen, a position he held for many years. He was a member of the Masons and a very active member of the Blue Hill chapter of the I.O.O.F Lodge #79. Gray has been a member of the Odd Fellows since 1970, confirmed I.O.O.F Grand Secretary Ken Grant, and had recently been awarded a 40-year jewel pin.

Gray was also an officer at the Blue Hill Country Club with a standing tee-time every Sunday.

“Much to my dismay,” said Selectman John Bannister, who golfed regularly with Gray, “Duane had at least three holes-in-one during his golf career.” Bannister noted that he has yet to get even one. In fact, Bannister pointed out, a close look at Gray’s license plate (noting a hole in one) would solidify the fact he was extremely proud of his golfing achievements.

Committed to outdoor space and recreation, Gray was an advocate for the town park, often brokering work from the Odd Fellows to enhance the public spaces.

From being the pharmacist at Partridge Drug Store, Rite Aid and now Community Pharmacy, Gray was a person you eventually saw over the course of your lifetime as you dealt with sickness and other afflictions.

“What he did was also part counseling,” said Bannister. “And he always tried to help people, whether it be financially or emotionally.”

Because of his lifelong work in the pharmacy profession, Gray knew almost each and every birthday of those living on the Blue Hill Peninsula. When someone asked him a date, he often would tell them, then follow with a listing of birthdays on that day—birthdays of the living and other notable Blue Hill figures since deceased.

The one word that came to mind for Schatz was “fair,” noting that Gray always took his time to decide what was the fairest resolution to every problem. Often called Blue Hill’s swing vote, neither Bannister nor Schatz ever really knew which way Gray would vote on things until it came time to raise his hand. He’d often say things like “I’ll second that for discussion,” to further add suspense.

There are many stories—which will surely continue as time goes on—of Gray helping a family in need, or tipping off the Odd Fellows to situations in which they could lend a hand; the number of lives touched directly and positively by Gray may never be known, said Bannister and Schatz. But, both concluded, he would have wanted it that way because the help he always gave was done quietly and without attention.

A service for Gray will be held on Saturday, September 29, at 1 p.m. at the George Stevens Academy gymnasium. Additional information may be available next week.

Born to Helen (Osgood) and Walter Butler, Janet Torrey had roots that went back to Blue Hill’s founders. Fond of the Blue Hill Days that once were, Torrey could often be found behind the scenes orchestrating special events such as A Fourth to Remember and the town’s recent 250th anniversary celebration.

“She was a consummate mother, grandmother, volunteer and worker,” said Schatz, and she always gave her all. She was truly a gift to the town, and she will be missed.”

Those who knew Torrey knew she was always armed with a smile (and often with crafting supplies) and was the first to send a hand written note or a card for even the smallest of occasions.

Torrey leaves behind four children: Nichole, Laine, Kaiya and Meredith and three and a half grandchildren, with baby girl Bebout expected to arrive by year’s end.

A service will be held Sunday, September 23, at 3 p.m. at the Blue Hill Baptist Church, with a celebration of life to follow at the George Stevens Academy cafeteria.

Julia Danico Eaton served on the board of selectmen in the early 1990s. She has also been a member of the town’s school board and on the board of trustees for George Stevens Academy. Her father, Lawris Closson, was a long time selectman, and it is not surprising to those who knew her that she would dedicate much of her life to public service.

In addition to public service, Eaton, with family ties going back nine generations, spent a significant time researching both the genealogy and the history of her family and of Blue Hill. “She knew so much about Blue Hill, and knew almost everyone in town,” said her daughter Malinda Danico on Tuesday, September 18.

“She loved nature, she loved to write stories and had several readings in town over the years,” said Danico. “She raised four children; she taught us about farming, about raising vegetables and animals. She took us to be in nature whenever she could.”

Eaton leaves four children, a husband and three grandchildren. Services have not been announced.

Blue Hill’s recent 250th anniversary celebration

Being part of the community was a big part of Janet Torrey’s life, and was only second to being a mother and a grandmother. Torrey, who helped to organize the town’s recent 250th anniversary celebration is seen here—front and center—surrounded by her daughter Laine Astbury at her left, and mother Helen Butler on her right.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose
Blue Hill’s Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Duane Gray

Blue Hill’s Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Duane Gray, died on September 16. Gray dedicated his life to public service and will surely be missed by many. Here, he looks over paperwork before a special town meeting held August 3.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose
Duane Gray casts a ballot

Always actively involved in town affairs, Duane Gray casts a ballot during a 2008 town meeting.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose
Julia (Judy) Danico Eaton

Julia (Judy) Danico Eaton died on September 17 after battling an illness. As the town’s first and only female selectman, she served the town from 1990-1993.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo