WATERVILLE — The first decision Spike Carey made 43 years ago when he started his eight-year career as mayor of Waterville was to remove the hefty office door.
As mayor, he wanted to have an open-door policy complete with a permanently open office.
Local leaders, family and friends on Monday recalled that memory and others associated with Carey’s colorful legacy as a longtime legislator, alderman, mayor, selectman and town manager in Belgrade and Waterville.
Richard Carey, 84, known universally as “Spike,” died Friday at Maine Veterans’ Homes in Augusta.
Gov. Paul LePage directed all Maine flags in Waterville be flown at half-staff today in Carey’s honor.
Carey’s wife, Helen, said her husband loved all the jobs he held, but his favorite was mayor of Waterville, a job he held from 1970 to 1978.
“It was his favorite thing in the whole world. We all knew because he said it often and loud,” she said.
Carey was born in Waterville on Jan. 7, 1929, son of working-class French Catholics, Augustus and Alma. He grew up in the city’s South End, and did not speak English until he was 12.
According to Carey’s family, the nickname Spike was passed down to him from his father, who also was called Spike. Augustus got it from playing baseball, and when his son began playing, he got it, too.
Carey’s oldest son, Mike Carey, said Monday his dad was a generous man. For instance, once when the two of them were surveying land for an elderly woman, his father, after making a show of adding up the cost of labor, insisted the fee was $30, when normally it would cost $300.
People would call their home phone at all hours, asking for Carey’s help with a problem. He once answered a 2 a.m. call from a resident who was concerned about icy roads in Waterville.
Helen Carey said that with each new job, her husband continued to make friends and retained them long after he left the position.
“He just kept meeting people and expanding his social circle,” she said.
She said Carey enjoyed holding any leadership position that allowed him to serve the community.
“He wasn’t so much a politician as a servant of the public,” she said.
Enthusiasm and controversy
The tall, thin and seemingly tireless Carey also served on the Waterville City Council. He represented Waterville in the Maine House of Representatives from 1967 to 1978, and the state Senate from 1990 to 1998.
Beverly Daggett, a former Democratic state representative and state senator representing Augusta, said Carey was a busy person who enjoyed his role as a legislator.
“You can tell when someone enjoys the job like he did,” she said. “He had a lot of enthusiasm.”
She said that at the time, pagers were becoming popular with the state legislators, and Carey thought it would be funny to wear his garage door opener clipped on his clothing to look like one.
After serving in the Legislature, Carey was town manager of Belgrade from 1989 to 1990, and was also a longtime selectman there.
Carey also was director of the Maine State Lottery from 1978 to 1985, and laid claim to authoring the law that created Tri-State Megabuck.
But his tenure ended in controversy. Carey left the lottery in October 1985 after coming under fire the year before when an audit questioned thousands of dollars in expenses at annual lottery sales meetings between 1981 and 1984. The expenses involved bills for liquor, golf fees and spouses’ expenses that were paid out of the state General Fund.
Maine House Republicans accused Carey’s office of sloppy bookkeeping and called for his ouster.
State Finance Commissioner Rodney Scribner later excused lottery officials for nearly $10,000 in challenged expenditures. Gov. Joseph Brennan maintained that he did not ask Carey to resign and said Carey was not fired, but Carey left after a meeting with Brennan.
There were also local disputes. In April 1978, the Morning Sentinel reported on a hearing that was called by the City Council over whether Carey, then mayor, had used city money to buy a 1975 Plymouth sedan that was once a state police cruiser.
Carey also ran unsuccessfully for governor against fellow Democrat Brennan in 1978.
Color and humor
Old co-workers and family members said he was a hard-working and meticulous mayor who could recall city expenditures by department from memory.
Carey once told the Morning Sentinel that with long hours as mayor, he estimated he was earning “a little over a buck an hour.”
Former city hall custodian Fred Jobber said Carey “liked to be a hands-on mayor” and once climbed scaffolding to the City Hall roof so he could personally check on a maintenance project repairing the eves.
Along with his reputation as a hard worker, Carey was known for his sense of humor and colorful exploits.
Jobber said one day he couldn’t find a Band-Aid in City Hall, so Carey thought it would be fun to call for Waterville rescue to bring him one.
“The next week every office had a first aid kit,” he recalled.
Helen said Carey once hit a golf ball across the Kennebec River to Winslow in response to a challenge.
Jobber, 72, of Benton, who retired as a City Hall custodian, said Carey was the first of 10 mayors he served under.
Jobber said he wasn’t sure how to set up the stage for Carey’s inauguration because it was the first time he constructed the platform. After asking other people around City Hall for advice and not getting a good answer, he eventually called Carey at home the morning before the inauguration.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll be right down. How do you drink your coffee?'” Jobber said.
Carey arrived in a baseball cap and a cup of coffee and helped him carry the stage material from the basement to the Opera House.
While they were carrying the material, Carey said two men in suits asked what time they expected the mayor’s inauguration to start. Jobber said he and Carey let them know the time, not identifying Carey as the mayor-elect.
“I’d like to have seen their face when he walked out and got sworn in on stage,” he said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252