Charles Harlow in 2004 Staff file photo by Jack Milton

Charles Harlow, a former Portland city councilor and mayor who went on to serve in the Maine House of Representatives, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 77.

A Portland resident, Mr. Harlow was a teacher, coach and college placement director at Cheverus High School.

He was remembered Thursday for his love of family and his tireless dedication to the city of Portland.

Mr. Harlow served on the City Council from 1990 to 1999, including a stint as mayor in 1992. As mayor, he was an outspoken advocate for equal rights and was instrumental in bringing the Sea Dogs to Portland. During his tenure, he also fought for education, lower taxes, and efforts to rezone Portland’s waterfront and revitalize the downtown district.

“He was a leader and a doer,” said former Portland City Councilor Tom Kane. “When he believed in something, he fought tirelessly for it.”

Peter O’Donnell, who also served on the council with Mr. Harlow, said he always had the best interests of the city and community in mind with every decision he made.


“People felt Charlie was was an everyday kind of person, … that he understood what people were dealing with,” O’Donnell said. “I remember seeing him on the council. He was always fighting for somebody who may not have had a voice or an advocate. He was a really good district councilor. He represented his community very well.”

A native of Rumford, Mr. Harlow was a football player at Stephens High School, Maine Central Institute and the University of Maine. He graduated with a degree in education in 1965, followed by a master’s degree in 1968.

Mr. Harlow taught and coached football for 39 years beginning in 1965 at Wells High School. He joined Cheverus High in 1972. There, he was a history teacher and football coach. He later served as college placement director at Cheverus for about 25 years.

His wife, Sylvia Harlow of Portland, said he loved his students. She said he tried to make learning fun.

“He had a great sense of humor,” she said. “He usually had a nickname for his students. Little silly things that he enjoyed.”

Mr. Harlow retired in 2004. Soon thereafter, he ran for the House seat that covered Portland’s Riverton and Barron Center neighborhoods. He held the seat from 2004 to 2010. During his tenure, he served on numerous committees, including the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation. He advocated for education and environmental causes.


He was a loving husband for 55 years and a dedicated father of two daughters, Denise Harlow of Portland and Kristen Harlow of Queens, New York.

His wife spoke fondly on Wednesday about his relationship with their daughters, and the time they spent at their camp in Oquossoc. She said they enjoyed going for walks, hiking, fishing and picking berries.

“He was a wonderful husband and father,” she said.

According to his obituary, which is scheduled to appear in Sunday’s newspaper, he suffered for many years with frontotemporal dementia. His wife said she took care of him at home for the last five years.

“We did what we could here. I helped him with whatever he needed,” his wife said. “I’ll miss him forever. It’s like the load is lighter, but the heart is heavy. I feel like he’s at peace. He had a long, long struggle. … There’s lot of emptiness right now.”

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