EAST MADISON — The last article Betty Withee wrote for the Morning Sentinel was in March 1997 about Harold Tuttle of Athens who, at 88, said he was too young to be the recipient of the Boston Post cane.

Withee, a reporter and columnist for the Sentinel for more than 35 years, died Sunday at a nursing home in Bingham from complications of Parkinson’s Disease.

She was 78 — too young, her daughter said Monday.

“She was so young in so many ways,” daughter Midge Merrill of Solon said. “Her mind was still absolutely crystal clear and brilliant right up until her last few seconds. She wasn’t done teaching us, sharing the stories with us. She wasn’t finished doing the things she wanted to do.”

Withee had been living with Merrill and her husband in recent weeks.

Merrill, 55, said her first memory of her mother as a newswoman was when Merrill was young child, bundled up in the back seat of the family car.

“I could feel heat and I looked up and I realized my mother had chased a fire engine to a fire,” she said. “There was a big fire and I remember my mother jumping out to ask questions to see what was going on.”

Her mother saw stories everywhere, she said.

Withee started work for the Morning Sentinel in 1953. She was a photographer, loved court news as a reporter, sold advertising, was a receptionist and from the mid-1980s until her official retirement in 1995, wrote a weekly column for the newspaper called Our Neighbors.

Morning Sentinel reporter Amy Calder worked with Withee at the Skowhegan bureau of the newspaper for several years in the late 1980s and early 90s when Withee managed the front desk.

Calder said Withee was a hard worker who knew every job in the office and could step into any one at any time.

“Betty was a true newspaperwoman who could sense a good story from a mile away,” Calder said. “Even after she was no longer a reporter, she would come into the office early, armed with tips she had learned at the local restaurant where she breakfasted with all the important people in town. She’d pass those tips on to us.”

Maine mystery writer Gerry Boyle, a former Morning Sentinel reporter and editor, said Withee already was the veteran reporter in the Skowhegan bureau when he arrived in 1980.

“She kept the cub reporter in line, clued me in on who was who in Somerset County,” Boyle said. “She was a great source with an endless Rolodex of contacts, all in her head — nobody knew Skowhegan like Betty Withee — and a wonderful mentor, always ready to head out on a story, always game for any adventure, always quick to tell us newcomers the story behind the story.”

Ann McGowan, who worked for the newspaper from 1962 to 1996 as a correspondent, feature writer, editor and finally managing editor, said Withee did more than just report the news.

“Withee was truly dedicated to local news in an era when local was truly the bread and butter of Maine newspapers,” McGowan said. “She had a flair that allowed her to write interesting reflections on life in her corner of Maine. It didn’t matter whether it was a feature, a birth notice, a church fair or a town meeting, she gave it her best and she got it right.

“Skowhegan-area readers trusted her. Her editors trusted her, as well. We could always count on Betty’s reports to be accurate and well-written.”

Retired Morning Sentinel reporter Darla Pickett said she and Withee were almost like sisters. Pickett said she first met Withee at a gathering of Somerset Press Women in 1970 or 1971.

“She was the face of the Sentinel. She did it all,” Pickett said. “She was always professional, polite, thorough — she just didn’t give up. She had a sense of humor, she was elegant. Always a lady and yet quite feisty and for all her calm demeanor, she didn’t take much crap. She was very good at it.”

Withee’s longtime friend, former Skowhegan Selectwoman Evalyn Bowman, agreed that Withee had died young, but lived with grace.

“She died young at heart,” Bowman said. “She was a unique, loving, caring woman. She endured her illness with dignity and grace.”

Merrill said her mother will be buried next to her late father, Donald Withee, at the family’s Heritage Farm on East Madison Road. It will be a green burial, with a wooden casket.

There will be a public Eastern Star service for Withee at 7 p.m. Thursday at Giberson’s Funeral Home in Bingham.

The funeral is set for Friday at the Centenary United Methodist Church on Dr. Mann Road in Skowhegan.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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