Richard A. Morrell ’50 died on April 7, 2023, in Brunswick, Maine.
(The following notice was shared by President Rose on April 10, 2023)
I write with the sad news that trustee emeritus Dick Morrell ’50 died Friday at the age of ninety-four after a period of declining health. Dick was a longtime Bowdoin trustee and a graduate of the Class of 1950 whose success in his family business ran parallel to a lifetime of civic engagement and philanthropy. Dick’s passing is a profound loss for the College, which he served in many capacities throughout his long and accomplished life.
Born in Portland on December 23, 1928, Dick grew up in a house on Longfellow Avenue in a family so connected to Bowdoin that when young Dick applied to the College as a potential fourth-generation Bowdoin student from the Morrell family, he resorted to an “etc.” in lieu of listing all his relatives who had gone to Bowdoin. Those relatives included his great-uncle Percival Baxter, a former governor of Maine and the legendary conservationist who created Baxter State Park. At Bowdoin, Dick was, like his father and brother before him, a member of Sigma Nu. He majored in economics and sociology.
After graduation, Dick worked for General Electric in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and in the fall of 1950 married Eleanor Manning of New Britain. He served in the Army Signal Corps for two years and was stationed in both Georgia and France. After completing his service in 1952, Dick returned to Brunswick to take a job with the family business. He started as a burner cleaner at Downeast Energy (formerly known as Brunswick Coal & Lumber Co.), was named a vice president by 1959, and later was the company’s treasurer and then president. He worked side by side with his brother, Robert (“Bob”) Morrell ’47, and at the time of his retirement he and Bob served as cochairs of the board. Dick and Eleanor (“Smokey”) raised their four children, Sandy, Deb, Jim, and Betsy in Brunswick.
It’s fitting that Dick led the charge in 1964 to put up the town’s first “Welcome to Brunswick” sign because his dedication to Bowdoin was rivaled only by his commitment to and influence on his hometown. The Morrell family was instrumental in developing new neighborhoods in Brunswick in the 1950s, including Meadowbrook. As the company expanded, so did Brunswick. He was an esteemed member of the Brunswick Chamber of Commerce and his many leadership positions included serving as vice president and then president of the Maine Oil and Heating Equipment Dealers Association. He also served on the New England Council, a business association.
In the mid-1960s, Dick became involved in local politics, running successfully for the Brunswick Board of Selectmen. He went on to serve in the Maine Legislature for several terms throughout the 1970s, running on a platform that called for government to face challenges with “human concern, imagination, and prudence.” He was the kind of politician who put his home phone number on his campaign flyers. As the local papers looked for controversy during one close election, Dick described his rival as “a damn good man,” and his rival said of Dick. “I can’t help liking him.” He once wrote an editorial urging others to be engaged in politics, saying “Maine would be better off if more people were involved.” In 1978, after a major fire at Brunswick Coal & Lumber, Dick withdrew from a state senate race to focus on the company’s recovery.
His philanthropic works included many fundraising campaigns for the Brunswick Area United Fund and the Boy Scouts. He raised money for an expansion at the former Parkview Memorial Hospital and served on the board of trustees for Regional Memorial Hospital. He was chairman at Regional Memorial Hospital for eight years and Mid Coast Health Services for twenty-one years, and he was instrumental in the merger of the hospitals in Bath and Brunswick that created Mid Coast Hospital in 2001. Dick also cared deeply about protecting Maine’s natural resources, serving on the board of trustees at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, including as chair in 2005.
Active in Bowdoin’s 175th anniversary campaign, Dick was named to the Alumni Council in 1974 and became an overseer in 1979. In 1989 he was named a trustee, serving until 2002, when he was elected trustee emeritus. In 1979, Dick and his brother, Bob, established the Allen E. Morrell/Downeast Energy & Building Supply Scholarship, in honor of their father, a member of the Class of 1922. The scholarship is given to Brunswick area students attending Bowdoin. When the College was expanding its athletics complex in 1984, Dick headed the building committee for the William Farley Field House and the A. LeRoy Greason Pool.
Dick was also the person who proposed that Brunswick create a statue of former Maine governor, Civil War hero, and Bowdoin president Joshua Chamberlain. Dedicated nearly twenty years ago on Memorial Day in 1993, the statue straddles the line between the Bowdoin campus and Brunswick’s downtown.
What was most remarkable about Dick was his energy and devotion to the people and things he loved. This included his summer community on Isle of Springs in Boothbay, where he and Eleanor hosted island-wide celebrations annually at their farmhouse. The business his father had purchased in 1931 was a lifelong constant for Dick. By the 1990s, Downeast Energy reached from Waterville to southern New Hampshire and employed 550 people. In 2012 the Morrell family sold Downeast Energy ,but Dick was not one to embrace retirement. His special request was that he keep his office at 60 Spring St., and for many years he continued to come into the office every day.
Dick is survived by his wife, Eleanor, his four children, seven grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.