YARMOUTH — Council Chairman Steve Woods summed it up in four words:
“Yarmouth is Erv Bickford,” Woods said Monday after the death of longtime councilor and community leader Erving H. “Erv” Bickford.
Bickford, 79, died Saturday at his Westcustogo Point home after a long illness. A celebration of his life will be held 4-6 p.m. Sunday at the home of his daughter, Tamson Bickford Hamrock.
Bickford, a town councilor for 24 of the last 34 years and a Water District trustee for 23 years, brought an engineering sense and strongly held convictions to every thing he did, Hamrock said.
“He did so much in very gentle ways,” she said. “He was always there, but behind the scenes. He would never tell you what to do, it was not his role.”
Whether helping Hamrock and her husband, Henry, renovate their home on Cousins Island, or helping Town Manager Nat Tupper learn about Yarmouth when he was hired 20 years ago, Bickford provided firm judgment with a soft touch.
“He would never lecture anybody. You could take a specific idea to him and see how it would affect people and the community long term,” Tupper said. “He was a man of innate decency, love of community and good will.”
Tupper said the strength of Bickford’s beliefs were always evident, but he was never forceful in expressing them.
“He would not be one to come in and tell you how to do your business. He did not force his ideas and values on others; he shared them when asked,” Tupper said.
Bickford was also the recipient of this year’s Latchstring Award, given in recognition of civic leadership. While the award is not intended for sitting councilors, there was no council opposition to awarding Bickford the honor.
Hamrock recalled her father as a man who used his practical nature and good humor to solve problems with help from his friends.
As a founder of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway Museum in Portland, Bickford organized the efforts to bring the locomotives and railroad cars to Portland from Cape Cod, Mass.
As an added touch, he arranged for antique flatbed trucks to carry the rolling stock north and had help from volunteers all along the East Coast, Hamrock said. The Portland museum is in the building where Bickford had his first job after college, she added.
Bickford went into the trucking business after leaving engineering, and had a love for Mack Trucks recalled by fellow Councilor Carlton Winslow.
His passion for restoring vintage trucks will remain on display at Railroad Square on Main Street, where his family will break ground on a post-and-beam, open-air display space this summer.
In politics, Bickford kept an eye on the bottom line and a sense of civility transcending the toughest quarrels, Woods said.
“While we would have spirited debates, he was the most honorable and honest person in government I ever met. He was great leader,” Woods said.
Before a meeting where they might find themselves in opposition, Woods said Bickford always enjoyed sharing a meal at a restaurant.
“No matter who he met, he was always pleasant, just a great builder of community spirit. I think the legacy is to always try to support your neighbors and community,” said Winslow, a former fire chief and school superintendent who served for almost a decade on the council with Bickford.
Born in Lisbon Falls on Aug. 17, 1932, Bickford graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1955. He is survived by his wife, the former Marilyn Pearson, whom he married in 1957.
Bickford is also survived by a sister, Arlene, of Miami; a brother, Calvin, of The Villages, Fla., three daughters: Tamson Bickford Hamrock and her husband Henry of Yarmouth and Singapore; Susan Bickford and Rich Simon of Newcastle; Catherine Bickford and Edward Rowe of South Portland and three grandchildren.
“If Yarmouth had a Mt. Rushmore, Erv would be one of the people pictured,” Woods said. “He had such a reputation and was so honorable, nobody would ever hold a grudge against Erv.”
When not seeing to municipal or water district duties, Erv Bickford enjoyed restoring vintage trucks and was a founder of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway in Portland. Some of the trucks he restored with freinds will eventually be on display at Railroad Square on Main Street in Yarmouth.