AUGUSTA — Former Mayor William E. Dowling, who also served as a city councilor, led local youth groups and worked for the state for nearly three decades, has died.

Augusta Mayor William Dowling addressing a forum about sex offenders residing in the city Oct. 22, 2003, during meeting at City Center. Kennebec Journal file photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

Dowling, known by those who worked with him as a strong and tough leader who did what he thought was best for his hometown of Augusta, died Dec. 27 following a battle with cancer. He was 72.

Dowling was mayor from 1999 to 2006, a time that saw a variety of developments, including construction of a new Cony High School. Dowling was involved in Team Cony’s efforts to raise money to help build the state-of-the-art high school.

He also was involved in the city’s decision to sell a large part of the site of the former Cony property, between Cony and Stone streets, to Hannaford, which later developed the site with a new supermarket.

Selling the site was controversial and prompted a lawsuit by several residents against the city, which was settled in the city’s favor.

City Councilor Darek Grant, who was on the Augusta Board of Education when Dowling was mayor, said Dowling was steadfast in defending the city’s actions in selling the property and said the proceeds from the sale to Hannaford were put into a fund the city has used to make improvements to the high school and help offset property taxes.

“It was controversial at the time, but, true to being a leader, Bill did what he thought was right for the community, and I think it has played out that it was better for the community,” Grant said.

City Manager William Bridgeo, who was manager the entire time Dowling was mayor, said he was a strong leader who held firm to his convictions.

“He was determined with any issue the council dealt with when he was mayor that it would be done in the best interests of the city he was born and raised in and spent most of his life in, other than when he was in the military,” Bridgeo said.

Dowling’s sister, Karen Foster, who also served as a city councilor while he was mayor, said her brother gave fully of himself to Augusta.

“He showed leadership qualities. Even when he was a kid, he came by that naturally,” Foster said. “He was very community-oriented and just wanted to give back. That’s because of the way we were raised. Our dad always believed in community.”

Augusta Mayor Bill Dowling, center, hugs Roger Katz while Diane Hastings applauds in 2001 after learning that the high school referendum passed. Kennebec Journal file photo

Foster said when she served on the council, her brother was tough and “didn’t treat me any differently than anyone else.”

She said he was honest and forthright.

Dowling was a city councilor from 1995 to 1998. He ran for mayor again in 2014, losing to current Mayor David Rollins.

He worked for the state of Maine for 27 years, retiring as assistant deputy secretary of state, according to his obituary.

He served on a number of nonprofit boards, particularly for youth organizations. He for many years was on the board — and a vice president — of the Capital Area Recreation Association.

Dowling’s tenure as mayor, ended by term limits in 2006, included the construction of a third bridge over the Kennebec River, Cushnoc Crossing, development of the Augusta Crossing shopping complex, the sale of city property where a new Kennebec Valley YMCA property was later built and the development of Mill Park.

William Dowling holds a sample Maine State Motor Vehicle title July 25, 1986. Kennebec Journal file photo

As mayor, Dowling appointed the commission that made recommendations that eventually led to a merger of the local public water and sewer providers into the Greater Augusta Utility District. Bridgeo said that move resulted in combined savings of about $500,000 a year.

“There was a lot of progress in the Bill Dowling era, no question about it,” Bridgeo said.

Dowling worked as chief executive officer of a development company owned by Kevin Mattson and other partners, playing a role in commercial development, including at the Central Maine Commerce Center. That business relationship dissolved, because of a lawsuit in 2015.

Former State Sen. Roger Katz, who followed Dowling as mayor in 2007, said Dowling was a friend, for a time a next-door neighbor and mentor to him.

“I’ve known him most of my life,” Katz said of Dowling. “I remember times I’d go to him for advice for personal and political life. He was a tremendous help to me when I became mayor, helping me understand not just the nuts and bolts but also the nuances of the job.”

Grant said when he graduated from college and returned home to Augusta, where he had admired Dowling’s previous work as mayor, he contacted Dowling, who at the time was up for reelection as mayor, and offered to help with his campaign. Dowling took him up on the offer, and then encouraged Grant to run for an open seat on the Board of Education.

Once Grant agreed to run, Dowling took him around the city and introduced him to community groups and leaders. Grant was elected to the school board and Dowling was reelected as mayor.

Grant said as he would not have run for office without Dowling’s encouragement and help.

“Here I am reaching out to help with his campaign and in return he ends up helping me run for the school board,” Grant said. “It’s something that has always stuck with me. He was a good leader who didn’t just tell you to do something, he helped you to do that.

“Here I am in my 10th year on the council, and I was on the school board six years. None of it, probably, is something I would have done without him getting me started and making me get out there and work to get elected to the school board. In his spirit of helping be a mentor and encouraging people to get involved in the community, I try to do the same thing in the community now.”

Visiting hours and a Mass of Christian burial are planned for later this month in Augusta.

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