Robert Bruce Beith gave a lot to his community and his state during a long newspaper career in Portland.

He started as a reporter at the Portland Evening Express and worked his way up to become executive editor of that newspaper and ultimately the publisher of Guy Gannett Publishing Co., which also included the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal in Augusta and Morning Sentinel in Waterville.

Robert B. Beith

But it was a column he wrote in December 1949 that, in time, would improve the lives of generations of Maine children and their families and become Beith’s most unexpected legacy.

Beith wrote a regular column for years under the pen name Bruce Roberts, his first and middle names reversed.

Beith’s friend Matthew Barron, Portland’s assistant welfare director, came to Beith with a problem: A lot of Portland children were not going to receive holiday gifts that year because their parents were struggling during an economic recession.

That led to the fateful Bruce Roberts column that ran in The Evening Express on Dec. 9, 1949, under the headline, “What to do about it: 1,000 face Santa-less Christmas.”

The goal was to raise enough money to buy toys for 1,000 children. The idea worked, even better than expected, and that first year readers donated close to $4,000 and provided gifts to more than 1,500 kids.

Barron and Beith kept at it year after year, and the name Bruce Roberts eventually became synonymous with the annual toy drive. The fund eventually was inherited by the Press Herald when the Express folded in 1991.

What is now officially called the Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts outlived both of the charity’s co-founders. Barron died in 1980 and Beith died in 1990.

Beith’s work as a newspaperman helped shape the state we live in. Along with the decades of journalism he produced and oversaw, he worked with the state education department to introduce newspapers as a teaching tool in school classrooms and he was a leader of the effort that resulted in freedom of information legislation.

But it was that Bruce Roberts column and the others that followed that continue to inspire annual donations in his name and, 71 years later, will again bring joy to thousands of Maine children at the holidays.

Beith was as surprised as anyone. Near the end of his life he said he never expected so many readers would “keep the contributions rolling in with their only reward being the vision of children’s happy faces when they opened their presents, and their parents’ happiness in knowing that someone out there cares.”

THE PRESS HERALD TOY FUND in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts uses donations from readers to provide toys to thousands of Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents. Now in its 71st year, the fund serves families in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, Lincoln and Knox counties.

• DONATIONS to help buy the toys can be made at pressheraldtoyfund.org or by writing checks to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailing them to the fund at P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

• FOR MORE INFORMATION, call 791-6672 or go to: pressheraldtoyfund.org.

TODAY’S DONATIONS:

Charles Dodge $200
Bernard Davala $25
In memory of Hugh Leavitt $50
Kenneth & Nancy Gordon $250
In memory of Hollie and Clara Jordan $100
Jean Driscoll $100
Susan Lee $50
Charlene Davanzo $50
In memory of my parents, Norma and Phil, from Ruby and Brenda $100
In memory of Dr. and Mrs. Roderick A. MacDonald $40
Merry Christmas! Pauline Ouimette $25
For the children, from LMP $25
From Androscoggin County, Sharon Benoit and Keith Weatherbie $50
Anonymous $500
In memory of loved ones $100
From Cassie, Haylee and Jamison $100
Katherine Wright $25
Anonymous $50
In memory of Charlie, Pat and Tommy $75
Bob & Phyllis Wagstaff $100
Linda Freedman $100
In honor of my four grandsons $50
Judith Weyand $25
Merry Christmas, with much gratitude for doing this $25
In memory of our mothers – Betty R. and Betty V. $25
For our precious children! $10
Rosemarie Smith $30
In memory of Robert Bruce Beith $200
In memory of Henk Pols, from the Baird family $200
Chebeague Island Fire Dept. $410
Anonymous $30
Anonymous $100
Emma, Annie, Lucia, Nicco $50
Anonymous $100
Candace Sykes $25
In loving memory of our family both human and furry. Jeanne & Jerry Ashworth $50
In memory of Helen & Alice Robinson $50
In memory of Bill Crowell, Jr. $50
Evelyn, Steve & Jack $100
Merry Christmas! Richard & Pamela Shaughnessy $200
In memory of our parents,Warren & Sena Herbert, and Henry & Irene Ducharme $50
In loving memory of my son, Justin, and my mom, Carolyn. Happy Holidays to all! $100
From Molly, Maggie and the girls $75
Merry Christmas, David & Michelle Reese at Falmouth PT $200
Merry Christmas to the children – Ethan & Owen $40
Richard & Audrey Martin $100
Janet Silvers $50
Murray Family Foundation $175
In loving memory of George and Nancy Odum $50
Merry Christmas in memory of Ronald Leeman $25
In memory of our son, Timmy, from Mom, Dad, Robin, Karen $200
In memory of my mom, Thelma Gould $25
In loving memory of Harold & Theo Moxcey, from Carole, Kim & Steph $100
Anonymous $50
Anonymous $100
May all children feel the joy and magic of Christmas $100
Cynthia Clement $50
In memory of Bob & Martha Alexander, from Kathie & Steve $100
Hope this helps! Mark, Lisa, Garrett, Abby, Nik  $200
In memory of HP $100
Anonymous $50
Edward & Catherine Peterson $100
Anonymous $20
Kristin Hughes $50
In memory of E.A.B. $100
In memory of Maria & Bill Phillips, from Kathie & Steve $100
Merry Christmas from the Pike family, Yarmouth $25
Michael & Anne Jones $150
Happy Holidays! Nancy Boggs & Mark Kiefner $100
Given in love for our grandchildren & their friends, Alanna, Sam, Jordan, Maria, Noah, Ethan, Lara,Dara, Finn, James, Meri & Oliver $300
Anonymous $200

Year-to-date total: $216,866.25


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