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South Portland School Board member dies unexpectedly

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South Portland School Board member dies unexpectedly

SOUTH PORTLAND — School Board member Michael Eastman died Monday night at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

The 69-year-old Eastman had been on life support at the hospital since he collapsed on Wednesday, Sept. 9, while working out at a local gym. He received medical treatment at the gym before being taken to the hospital, according to a family friend.

A celebration of Eastman's life will be held Sunday, Sept. 27, at 2 p.m., at the South Portland Auditorium; a reception will follow a the high school.

Friends said Eastman seemed to be in good shape and appeared to have no major health problems. Prior to heading to the gym, Eastman had attended a board meeting with the South Portland Historical Society. 

School Board member James Gilboy said he didn't believe the news when he was informed by Superintendent of School Suzanne Godin on Tuesday morning. 

"My first reaction was you're kidding, but unfortunately she wasn't," Gilboy said. "I was shocked. We're all taking it pretty hard."

During School Board discussions, Eastman advocated implementing policies and budgets, regardless of the political climate. He also questioned whether the district was doing enough to strengthen student performance in reading and math. 

"He always wanted to speak his mind, especially if he felt something would hurt students," board Vice Chairman Richard Carter said. "But he was also one of the most respectful debaters I have ever known."

Prior to his election to the School Board in 2003, Eastman worked for the School Department for 32 years. He retired in 1999 as assistant principal of Memorial Middle School. He also taught in Scarborough for four years before coming to South Portland. 

Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Alan Hawkins, who worked as principal with Eastman at Memorial, said his longtime friend earned the respect and admiration of those he knew, especially teachers. Although he was a strict disciplinarian with students, Eastman never labeled students who acted out as troublemakers and would often sit down and have serious conversations with students who needed help. 

"He was always willing to go the extra mile for the student," Hawkins said. "It takes a rare person like Michael to have a deep effect on young people. He was one who could do that."

Godin said Eastman had a singular focus.

"He placed the well-being of the students above everything else," she said, describing him as caring, compassionate, sincere and kind. "He was such a wonderful person. This is a tremendous loss. He will be missed."

In addition to working for South Portland schools, Eastman also worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, inspecting cargo containers coming into the Portland International Ferry Terminal. Starting off as a part-time worker, Eastman joined INS as a full-time employee after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

After retiring from the INS in 2004, Eastman became a court officer in Cumberland Country Superior Court in 2005. 

"He loved education and he loved the challenges of law enforcement," his wife, Linda Eastman, said. "He could talk to the toughest of the tough, or the neediest of the needy."

For 30 years, Eastman was a member of the South Portland Lions Club, an organization he once presided over. He received several awards for his work with the Lions.

He was also board member of the South Portland Historical Society and served on several ad hoc committees in the city. Most recently, Eastman, a former Planning Board member, served on the Zoning Improvements Committee. He also served on the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse Committee and the Knightville Mill Creek Steering Committee. 

To his wife of 42 years, Eastman was more than a gifted educator and active community member. He was a caring husband, father of Chad Eastman and Lynne Eastman Joys, and the grandfather of five grandchildren who attend South Portland schools.

"He was the most incredible husband," Linda Eastman said. "He never spoke an unkind word to me." 

Eastman said her husband also loved his organic garden on Chapel Street, where he grew assorted vegetables. He especially enjoyed his patches of strawberries, blackberries and more recently blueberries, all of which were a favorite to not only his grandchildren, but neighborhood children, too.  

"He would be the first to tell you that he had a wonderful life," Linda Eastman said. "He felt valued. What more could a man ask for?"

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net
This story was updated on Sept. 17 to include information about a celebration of Eastman's life.