Former US Sen. Bill Hathaway of Maine dies at 89

AP News
Posted: Jun 25, 2013 12:52 PM
Former US Sen. Bill Hathaway of Maine dies at 89

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Hathaway, a World War II prisoner of war who upset Maine legend Margaret Chase Smith but then lost his seat after one term to William Cohen, has died. He was 89.

Hathaway died Monday at his home in McLean, Va., said his daughter-in-law, Lee Hathaway.

A liberal Democrat who had strong backing from organized labor, Hathaway served four terms in the House from northern Maine's 2nd District, geographically the largest east of the Mississippi, before running for the Senate in 1972.

After narrowly defeating Smith in the Senate, Hathaway was unseated in 1978 by Cohen, who had succeeded Hathaway in the House and was one of the Judiciary Committee Republicans who backed President Richard Nixon's impeachment.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a former Senate staffer for Hathaway, called him "a dear friend" and "cherished mentor."

"I was fortunate to witness firsthand his strong moral courage and his sincere and unfailing desire to help others," King said.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said that although Hathaway was in a wheelchair, he was lively and engaging the last time she saw him, in January. "I shall miss him," she said.

A Cambridge, Mass., native and son of a railroad engineer, Hathaway parachuted from a downed B-24 bomber over the Ploesti oil fields in Romania during World War II and spent two months in a prisoner of war camp. He met his wife of 62 years, Mary Lee Bird Hathaway, in 1945 when she was a flight nurse in a San Antonio hospital and he was her patient.

After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Hathaway was invited by Frank Coffin to join his law practice in Lewiston. Coffin, who was active in Democratic politics, went on to serve two terms in Congress and spent 40 years on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hathaway caught the political bug and went on to serve as chairman of the Maine Democratic Party before being elected to Congress in 1964.

"He was a fairly liberal guy, very down home, folksy and very smart," said Harold Pachios, a Portland lawyer and Democratic activist, who remembered him as being good company, "relaxed" and with a wry sense of humor.

Pachios praised Hathaway's willingness to take unpopular stands on high-profile issues, including his support for giving up the Panama Canal and settling the Maine Indian land claims dispute, both of which drew strong criticism at the time but eventually faded from controversy.

After leaving the Senate, Hathaway practiced law there and served for six years on the Federal Maritime Commission, which he chaired from 1993 until his retirement in 1996.