WATERVILLE — Peter Joseph, longtime church deacon, hospital chaplain, businessman, community volunteer and advocate for the less fortunate, was remembered Wednesday as a man who never stopped giving.

Joseph, who grew up in the family business, Joseph’s Market on Front Street, and served 46 years on the Waterville Safety Council, died Monday at his home with his family. He was 91.

Joseph spent a lifetime helping people from the time he was a child handing out food to homeless people who stopped at the family market on Front Street, say those who knew him.

“What a wonderful representation of a human being,” said John Morris, a former Waterville police chief and current commissioner for the state Department of Public Safety.

Morris said Wednesday that when he was the police chief, he worked closely with Joseph, who was chairman of the Waterville Safety Council. Joseph’s job was to help ensure sidewalks, intersections and roads were safe for motorists and pedestrians, and he worked diligently toward that end, according to Morris.

Joseph was a military veteran who served under Gen. George Patton in World War II and was a deacon at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church on Front Street.

“I had the utmost respect for Peter, not only because of his service to this country in World War II, but also the dedicated service he gave to the city of Waterville,” Morris said. “He was an unsung hero. He didn’t seek credit. He didn’t want any recognition. I could seek his counsel any time. We had an open door relationship. I depended on him for safety council issues. He was just a gem of a person.”

Joseph came from a large Lebanese family that owned not only the market, but also Joseph Motor Co. His father, John R. Joseph Sr., came to the U.S. from Lebanon in 1900 and married Lena Ferris, who also was from Lebanon.

The elder Joseph started Joseph’s Market in the mid-1920s, and the family lived in a building attached to the back of the store.

Peter said in an interview with the Morning Sentinel four years ago that as a child, he would go into the store at 6 a.m., sell cigarettes, chewing tobacco items and other items to people who worked at Wyandotte Woolen Mill at Head of Falls and then at 8 a.m. walk across town to North Grammar School on Pleasant Street.

Every Friday at lunchtime he would walk home and take a Lebanese dish his mother made with lentils and black olives to the mill where his father worked and sit there while he ate his lunch, bring the pot back to his mother and return to school.

Joseph recalled watching his brother give food to homeless people who camped along the Kennebec River at Head of Falls. Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell’s family lived at 94 Front St. The Josephs lived at 74. Joseph remembered Mitchell coming into the store to buy penny candy while his mother shopped for groceries.

“I carried groceries to their house while Mrs. Mitchell went to my house to talk to my mother,” he said.

Joseph married Patricia Brackett, of Greenville Junction. Peter and Patricia had six children — Jeffrey, Dianne, Lea, Laurie, Mary and Peter — who all grew up in the store, which Joseph and his brother, Roy, eventually took over. Roy Joseph’s son Kevin eventually bought the market.

Kevin Joseph, 57, who also co-owns Joseph’s Fireside Steakhouse, said Peter Joseph came to the store nearly every day, sometimes twice a day, to help with ordering and putting produce on display. As he slowed down, he’d call in “sick,” Kevin Joseph said.

“After a while I’d say, ‘Uncle Peter, you’ve got only 2,310 sick days left. You can’t stay away.’ He’d get a kick out of that.”

Peter’s influence prompted Kevin to become an dvocate for those less fortunate, raising money for the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. Kevin was a founding father and ultimately served as chairman of the shelter’s board of directors. He recently was named by Gov. Paul LePage, a former shelter co-president and former Waterville mayor, to the Maine State Housing Commission, which helps homeless people, including teens.

Kevin recalled that many years ago his uncle knew all of the people who owned small grocery stores around Waterville.

“He was the last of the breed,” he said. “He probably got to be almost one of the last of the store owners from that generation.”

Peter Joseph enjoyed volunteering on the Waterville Safety Council, and when it disbanded a few years ago, he embraced his work with the church and loved helping people spiritually, according to his nephew. He became well-loved by many people, and not just those in the Catholic Church. He visited people in the hospital, both as deacon and as hospital chaplain.

“He had people from all denominations calling him up and asking him to do funeral services,” Kevin Joseph said. “It didn’t matter if they were Jewish, Protestant … A lot of these people felt so close to him.”

He said his uncle was invited into churches to assist pastors at funerals where he was requested or to offer prayers at a funeral home.

“He was Roman Catholic and the clergy welcomed him. None of them ever took offense that he was asked to help or be part of it.”

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey visited Joseph last month at Mount St. Joseph Nursing home, where he was taken for rehabilitation after being in the hospital several days.

Massey said Joseph was looking forward to going home, so Massey offered him a ride in a cruiser when the time came for him to be discharged. He kept that promise, driving Joseph home about a month ago.

“He’s just such a great guy,” Massey said. “The man is so well-respected in the community. It’s going to be hard for anyone to follow Peter Joseph’s footsteps, I can tell you that, for his commitment to community, for his integrity, his stellar reputation, his honesty. When you look at Peter Joseph you just say, ‘Now, there’s a gentleman — just a patriarch of this community.’ We lost a great resident. You just can’t say enough good things about Peter Joseph. My heart goes out to his family, that’s for sure. They have lost a great father and grandfather.”

Joseph’s daughter Laurie Joseph, 59, of Belgrade, helped care for her father at his home and was with him when he died at 5 p.m. Monday.

Calling him “the most amazing man on the planet,” Laurie Joseph said he had missed his wife, who passed away several years ago, and wanted to be with her.

“He loved us so unconditionally,” she said. “He was so revered by all of us children, grandchildren. He loved my mother so much.”

His death, she said, was peaceful.

“He wasn’t in pain. He went so peacefully. He was reaching up to the ceiling, like he was seeing Mama.”

Peter’s daughter Lea Williams said his deeds imparted a lesson that can only be taught through example — giving of yourself to others.

“I remember him always telling me that his favorite saying, the one that he identified with most, was the following: ‘I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’ I think most people would agree that he lived up to this creed.”

The Rev. Larry Jensen of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church was in Michigan Wednesday attending to his own ill mother, but said he would be back for Joseph’s wake and service Friday and Saturday.

Jensen said Joseph was extremely dedicated to his position as a deacon and reliable in everything he did.

“He was very conscientious and very warm-hearted and sensitive and affectionate and very well-loved by the parishioners,” Jensen said. “It’s an incredible loss for all of us — very much so.”

He said as Joseph became more ill and frail, he slowed down a lot but would not give up.

“He had such a terrible back, with pain, and he insisted on giving out communion,” he said. “You knew he was in a lot of pain, but he kept on. I don’t know anyone that could continue to do what he did.”

Joseph was involved in many community activities. Three years ago he was given the Spirit of America Award by City Manager Michael Roy for his many years of service.

He was a member and past president of the board of directors for Associated Grocers of Maine and Waterville Boys Club Alumni Association, served 18 years on the board of directors for Waterville Boys Club and was past president of the Waterville Lions Club. He received many plaques and awards over the years from organizations including Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and National Child Safety Council.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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