Former Augusta mayor, city councilor, businessman and philanthropist John C. Bridge — who gave both his time and money to his community and inspired numerous others to do the same — died Tuesday.

Bridge led efforts to raise $10 million to build the Kennebec Valley YMCA’s current facility that opened in 2006, with his family donating $1.25 million to the project. He also contributed and helped raised funds for countless other projects and charities, including the United Way of Kennebec Valley, Children’s Discovery Museum and Kennebec Historical Society.

In 2005, he was named the Maine Philanthropist of the Year by the New England Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

He led by example but also had a knack, according to those who knew him, for inspiring others to also open their wallets, and raise even more funds on their own, for good causes.

“In my view, John was not a pillar in the community, he was the pillar of the community,” Harry Lanphear, current board member and a former executive director of the Kennebec Valley YMCA. “He honestly believed in tithing and in philanthropy, and he evangelized his beliefs to everyone he came in contact with. He elevated the community’s thinking on philanthropy almost single-handedly, getting people to understand the need for a new YMCA, a new library, a new Cony.

“He had a way of talking to people about that and the importance of it, and you couldn’t help yourself but to agree with him completely. He was so passionate about it,” Lanphear added.

Bridge’s effectiveness as a fundraiser didn’t mean he was pushy.

Local businessman Norm Elvin, who worked with Bridge on the YMCA fundraising campaign and who has been a donor to local projects himself, said Bridge was more of a gentleman than anyone else he ever met.

Joan McGinnes, left, Sen. Susan Collins and John Bridge chat before a Kennebec Valley YMCA donor appreciation event on Friday, June 15, 2017, at The Senator Inn in Augusta. Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

“He was so polite, so ethical. He raised the bar for all of us; John showed us it was all possible,” Elvin said. “He always had a big heart. He was involved in his church and was just a super, super man, very humble.”

Rob Gordon, longtime executive director of the United Way of Kennebec Valley, said John and his wife Charlene were “a community couple, very committed to this community, and have inspired a lot of other people to be generous and thoughtful. I’m thinking of him today and the things I learned from him and all the ways he is a role model for people like myself and many others.”

The couple were chairman and chairwoman of the local United Way’s major fundraising campaign in 2002.

Bridge, who late in his life split his time between Manchester and Florida, served as mayor of Augusta in 1997 and 1998, as a city councilor from 1989 to 1990 and 1995 to 1996, and on the school board from 1991 to 1992.

City Manager William Bridgeo, who was hired when Bridge was mayor, said it was Bridge’s positivity and advocacy that convinced him to leave a good job he enjoyed in New York to come back to Maine and become Augusta’s manager.

“The council was a bit wild 21 years ago, and it was my faith in John as mayor and a leader of the community that ultimately tipped the scales for me to leave a really good job and come to Augusta,” Bridgeo said. “He was the epitome of civility and poise. He had tremendous patience, almost to a fault.

“He showed great respect for anybody who came before the city council, and all members of the city council,” Bridgeo added, “because he was committed to the idea, in a true democracy, all voices have value and are entitled to be heard.”

When he was mayor, Bridge was still president of Bridge Construction Corporation, a construction business founded by his great-grandfather Amos in Connecticut in 1875. The company later moved to Augusta, and John Bridge joined his brother Dave in the company and served as president and chief executive officer for 30 years. The business changed its name to Bridgecorp in 1994, and the family sold the company in 2004, though Bridge remained involved.

Elvin and Lanphear said Bridge was a good businessman who chose, instead of spending his earnings on fancy cars or other luxuries, to share his success with his family, Green Street Methodist Church in Augusta, the University of Maine and charitable organizations, especially those serving children.

Bridge received the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s lifetime achievement award in 2005.

Bridgecorp was also recognized by the chamber as the Business of the Year in 1982, and Bridge was the chamber’s Business Person of the Year in 1992. He and Charlene were also awarded the 2010 Scout Citizens of the Year award by the Boy Scouts of America. In 2014, he was selected by Le Club Calumet in Augusta for its Outstanding Citizen Award.

“He was a true gentleman, and I think everyone that knew John or even just met John immediately came away with his energy for Augusta and his philanthropy, and his sincere genuine nature as a kind person,” Lanphear said. “And he was a great family man and exceptional businessman as well. He really could do it all, and did.”


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.