AUGUSTA — On the night of the historic and devastating 1998 ice storm, William Bridgeo flew into Portland and made an icy, three-hour drive up Interstate 295 to Augusta for a job interview with city councilors.

He would later to be chosen as Augusta’s next city manager, a job he held for more than two decades until his recent retirement.

Bridgeo is a Maine native but at the time was serving as city manager of Canandaigua, New York, so he’d flown in for the job interview.

Despite the mayhem about to strike outside in January 1998, Bridgeo kept his appointment with councilors and the late John Bridge, who was mayor at the time. As he parked his rented GMC Jimmy he noticed it was encrusted in about an inch-and-a-half of ice, its antenna resembling a giant icicle. Because the normally hour-long drive from Portland took so long, Bridgeo — who had made the trip wearing jeans, boots and an old sweater thinking he’d change into dress clothes he’d brought with him for the interview — didn’t have time to change, so he went to meet the group in wet casual wear.

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo is seen in 2005. Kennebec Journal file

Two other finalists for the job were scheduled to be interviewed later that night and canceled, declining to drive through the treacherous conditions from their residences in Maine.

Early the next morning, Bridgeo barely made it out of Hallowell, where he’d spent the night after his interview, with friends Frank O’Hara and Jane O’Rourke. When he awoke that morning to find his friends’ house had no electricity, he stepped out onto their porch and heard numerous bangs and crashes coming from the woods as trees crashed to the ground under the weight of ice that had coated them overnight.


“It sounded like a war zone, because the trees were breaking and crashing down all over,” Bridgeo, who in November was elected to represent Augusta in the Maine House of Representatives, said in a recent interview.

He said he recognized what was happening, as five years prior a similar ice storm had struck in Canandaigua, during which he’d heard the same kinds of scary sounds as trees collapsed under the weight of ice.

“As soon as I heard that, I knew what it was and said I’m getting the heck out of here as fast as I can,” he said. “I fired up the Jimmy and went over, under, and around trees downed or about to come down. I got on (Interstate) 295 to the jetport and got the last flight out of Portland to Rochester (New York).”

Augusta officials then decided to postpone their search for a new city manager, to focus their attention on dealing with the massive impacts of the ice storm. The late David Jowdry agreed to continue serving as interim city manager, until the search resumed a couple months later and councilors selected Bridgeo, who beat out some 100 other applicants. He started on the job in April 1998, remaining in the role until September 2021.

“They suspended the city manager search process at that point. David Jowdry was ably serving as acting manager, and was well-respected. He did a magnificent job for several months, helping the city recover from the storm,” Bridgeo said.

Safely back in New York, Bridgeo watched news coverage of the ice storm and central Maine’s efforts to recover from it. He read online newspaper accounts and received reports from the family of his wife and Gardiner native, Janice, who lived in the area.

He said the storm and recovery efforts that followed were very instructive to government officials in Maine, and highlighted the need to be prepared for emergencies like it in the future.

“It was a monumental struggle for folks living in Maine, and local governments,” he said. “It took several years for the city to really fully recover from the damage.”

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