John P. Bibber H’81 died on March 16, 2015, in Brunswick.
(The following appeared in The Times Record, March 17, 2015):
One of Maine’s and Brunswick’s longest serving town managers has died. John Bibber of Brunswick, who served in that role for 28 years, succumbed Monday morning to an unexpected illness, according to his daughter, Paula Tefft.
The Bibber family moved to Brunswick in 1961, said Tefft. John Bibber stayed in town until his passing. He was 88.
“He was town manager in Brunswick for what seemed like forever,” said Town Councilor David Watson in an interview Monday. “He was a great manager.”
Watson described Bibber as a “very special man” who was devoted to the town and its citizens.
“He’s just a tremendous guy,” said Watson, whose father worked for Bibber as director of public works. “He really cared about Brunswick.”
Brunswick’s population was about 10,000 when Bibber came to town. By the time he resigned, the population had doubled.
“I believe if you take care of all the little details, the whole picture falls into place,” Bibber was quoted at the time.
He was named Town Manager of the Year in 1980 by the Maine Town and City Manager Association.
“John Bibber epitomizes everything good about Maine public service,” Dana Baggett, then the chief state court administrator, was quoted as saying in another article that marked Bibber’s 20 years as town manager.
In 1984, he received the public administrator of the year award from the Maine Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration, which was awarded for outstanding government contribution on a sustained basis.
He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine in civil engineering in 1948 and a master’s in public administration in 1956.
Bibber’s previous work included serving as town manager in Isleboro starting in 1950. He was manager in Berwick and also served as the city manager of Old Town between 1956 and 1961.
Stephen McCausland served as a Brunswick town councilor for 20 years, eight of them during Bibber’s tenure, and knew him years before he was ever elected.
“He helped transform Brunswick from a sleepy mill town into the community we are today,” said McCausland. “That was a legacy of service to the town.”
When Bibber arrived, Brunswick was still led by town meeting and a fivemember board of selectmen.
That changed in 1969 when the council was formed.
McCausland, who described Bibber as “quiet and competent,” said Bibber helped steer the town during tumultuous times as shoe factories were “closing left and right.”
Bibber helped the town find new ways to make up lost tax revenue and provide jobs, said McCausland.
McCausland credited Bibber with helping to get the industrial park off Church Road established in the early 1980s.
“He was a pillar of quiet, determined leadership that helped transform Brunswick,” McCausland said.
Watson credited Bibber for accomplishments such as the Curtis Memorial Library’s expansion project.
Tefft noted that Bowdoin College granted Bibber an honorary degree in civil law for “helping foster goodwill between town and gown.”
Bibber retired as town manager in 1989.
Parks and Recreation Director Thomas Farrell is one of few still remaining on staff who worked with Bibber, who he described as “a very thoughtful administrator.”
“I think he led the town very capably, very ably during his tenure as town manager,” Farrell said. “He was always very open in terms of his willingness to listen, and also very encouraging with respect to how to best move the town forward. It’s a great loss to the community.”
The council on Monday held a brief moment of silence to mark Bibber’s passing.
Current Town Manager John Eldridge, who was hired by Bibber as finance director, said Bibber’s death came as a shock.
“John had a very distinguished career in public management,” a downcast Eldridge told the council. “He was often referred to as the dean of Maine’s town managers.”
Bibber served as a mentor to Don Gerrish, the man who would succeed Bibber after his retirement and served as town manager for nearly 20 years. Gerrish also worked as Bibber’s assistant between 1972 and 1974.
“He was a great person and a gentleman,” said Gerrish. “John had the demeanor to work with people and get things done.”
Tefft also recalled Bibber’s dry sense of humor. Her father loved climbing and enjoying the outdoors, particularly at Baxter State Park, on whose authority board he served.
“He raised a garden every summer, and his green beans were great,” Tefft said. “He played a mean game of Scrabble and cribbage.”
Bibber stayed active in retirement, and he especially enjoyed tennis, which he played well into his later years, Tefft said.
Bibber is survived by his wife, Betty, and two other daughters, Meredith Bibber of Seattleand Alison Berry of Bowdoinham.
“My parents loved to travel,” said Tefft. “He spent time with his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. He was a nice guy. He was always a good friend — someone who was well read and with a good sense of humor. Just an all around great guy.”
“He was comfortable in his own skin,” said McCausland. “He obviously had to work with a number of town councilors and councils that sometimes had different priorities. He helped use his institutional knowledge of town and government to steer us through a number of times — good times and bad times.”
In explaining the longevity of its town managers, Gerrish said: “Brunswick is a great community to be a manager in. If you do a good job, you’re respected by the people.”
Being a manager, Gerrish said, means having the ability to get things done.
“When he retired, someone asked how he was able to last so long. He said, ‘I outlived the bastards,’” said Gerrish.