On Sunday, August 31, 2003, John Gould died in Portland, Maine. Some weeks before, Bowdoin magazine's Sara Bodnar '03 had the pleasure to meet with John and interview him for this profile.
According to John Gould '31, a good reporter always tells you "which leg was broken." At 15 John began churning out Freeport news for the Brunswick Record, and within a year he was sending his stories to the Boston Sunday Post. One afternoon, he reported on an automobile accident in Freeport Square. John called the Post's editor Herb Kenney and said the driver sustained a broken leg. "Which leg?" Kenney asked. "Well, it's a fifty-fifty bet," John replied. "Don't be funny," Herb said. "Find out and call me back." Herb hung up, and left John with an important lesson in journalism.
Throughout his fruitful writing career, John has reliably paid homage to details, facts, and an everyday life that is linked with a Maine of the past. John adheres to "the real things" within his spellbinding anecdotes. "There's no such thing as fiction," he said. "Everything that happens to you is grist for the grindstone. Even the most wild piece of fiction had its base in a fact."
As both a perceptive journalist and a prolific novelist, John has used his experiences in a small Maine town to delight generations of readers. He was born in Boston, but by his eighth birthday his family moved to Freeport, Maine. He has published more than two-dozen books, and within his work John consistently returns to the town in which he grew up. Imagine a Freeport before L.L. Bean and tourists, a town where everybody had hens and cows, shipped milk or sold eggs. "I used to go to school and deliver milk along the way," John recalled. "There wasn't a breed of hens the Freeporters didn't know about." Dispatches from Maine, Maine's Golden Road, and The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine are only a few of his novels that bring readers back to Maine's bucolic roots. "For those of us whose ancestors did not grow up on farms, John makes us wish they had," said good friend Bowdoin Librarian Sherrie Bergman.
John's ties with Maine also encompass a loyalty to Bowdoin. John has signed the Bowdoin reunion book every year since 1931. He donates copies of his books, archival materials, and his own correspondence and papers to the College library. "John's extremely special and very dear," said Bergman. "His love for Bowdoin always comes through so clearly."
John's skillful pen and devotion to Maine have earned their rightful praise. In 1968, Bowdoin awarded John an honorary degree for his "ability to project the voice and spirit of our State." He was in the first group of Maine journalists to be inducted into the Maine Press Association's Hall of Fame. In August 2002, Maine governor Angus King proclaimed August 16th John Gould Day. John's 60th year of writing columns for The Christian Science Monitor was celebrated last year in a fanfare of triumph and festivities. At age 94, John is a true literary gem nestled within the pages of Maine's history. "Writing is just another job," he simply said. "The only difference is you don't work."
To read John Gould's obituary as it appeared in The New York Times, visit:
Photo: (c) 2001 John Nordell, The Christian Science Monitor
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 75, No. 1, Fall 2003
Posted January 25, 2005