Kevin Mills: Journalist, author, colleague, friend leaves lasting legacy

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“I’m excited to reach my destination. I know this walk will come to an end and I will stand at the brink of the sea and watch it splash at my feet. The Breakwater empowers me and helps me rise above the beautiful but unpredictable ocean.

“I stand perilously close to the dark depths now, but I trust my footing. I stand solidly upon this rock. I am protected from harm. I am basking in the warm glow of God’s glory. I am alive and loving life.” — Kevin C. Mills, from “Breakwater”

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Award-winning author, journalist, colleague and friend Kevin C. Mills is gone far too soon.

Kevin, 50, died late last week, sending a ripple of shock through the Maine sporting world, with the strongest tremors felt at 104 Park St. in Lewiston, his home base for 24 years and ours at the Sun Journal for more than 100.

At his desk, piles of paper — scores, stats and information from many years past — still sit in his own unique filing system that can only be described as controlled chaos.

But it was his controlled chaos, and it embodied the way he lived his life: with fervor, passion and dedication to the task at hand, whether that task came as an uncle, a novelist, or a journalist.

“It didn’t matter what he was doing,” Kevin’s brother, Wesley Mills, said. “He was all in.”

Scheduled to sign his books this past weekend at the Lobster Festival in Rockland, Kevin never made it. In his absence, Wesley and their sister, Doreen McGaff, staffed his table.

“One of the ways we describe him to people,” Wesley said, “was that he was a sports journalist by profession, but a historical novelist by avocation. He got really into his family history, really started researching it, and he found out that we had a lot of sea captains and lightkeepers, and those stories became the impetus for his historical novels. He has as much devotion to his writing as he did to his regular job.”

In addition to his writing, Kevin was a dedicated uncle to his six nieces and nephews.

“He doted on all of our children,” Wesley said. “He was as much an uncle to them as he was a big brother. He really took seriously the idea that he was a part of their lives. He was there at sports and at events. And he gave them the same gusto so many people knew he gave to his work.”

A fixture in the Sun Journal Sports Department since 1992, Kevin was an integral part of the team from day one.

“How very, very sad,” former Sun Journal Sports Editor Doug Clawson said. “Kevin was obviously a gifted writer, but mostly he was one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”

Kevin attacked one of the department’s most important beats, the Portland Pirates, with fervor. He developed more than sources; he developed relationships.

And his writing spoke to that. His writing connected readers to subjects so smoothly, readers felt like they knew the subject of a story like a neighbor after just one read. His game stories allowed people to feel like they were there at the games.

Nowhere was that more important than in high school sports. Kevin took particular pride in highlighting girls’ sports, something that had been lacking at the Sun Journal prior to his arrival. His primary reporting through the years revolved around soccer, girls’ basketball and softball, but he of course helped out in any way he could, covering every sport on our local docket and beyond.

“Kevin’s legacy is that he made the Sun Journal sports page a more diverse place,” former Sun Journal Sports Editor and colleague Kalle Oakes said. “He was given the assignment of covering mostly girls’ sports when he came to our newsroom, and he more than embraced it. He became Maine’s voice for girls’ athletics, and later for the incredible Somali influence on the sports programs in Lewiston-Auburn. Kevin gave those athletes and their stories the respect and the professionalism they deserved.”

As the medium evolved, so did Kevin.

He took to social media like a fish to water, joining the evolution of journalism from the beginning.

And for all of his efforts, over the years, Kevin was well-recognized — by his readers and by his peers.

“Kevin and I shared the same passion for our families, our faith and our friends,” Oakes said. “We both had great enthusiasm for words and for music. I always felt a kinship with him because of that. Some of my favorite memories of those years at the Sun Journal involve sitting side by side with Kevin at the basketball tournament, laughing about random stuff that perhaps only he and I noticed.”

In the professional realm, Kevin earned dozens of awards.

When he won the awards, the subjects about which he’d written to earn those accolades, and the stories he told, were those that really mattered to a broad base of people. They weren’t just well-written, as judged by his peers, but slices of life that came alive thanks to the strokes of his keys, or the point of his pen.

One recent story of which he was particularly proud included a look at the access for handicapped coaches across the region, from floors to fields, and how it affected their daily lives.

Another was a deep look behind the evolution of a game dear to his heart, and a city he adopted as a second home, a look in-depth into Somali immigrants and the changing face of soccer at Lewiston High School.

That story is still among the top circulated sports stories in the digital era at the Sun Journal, and served as a precursor to many other stories and tributes to that team’s — and the city’s — efforts.

Some more achievements: 1993, 2001 and 2002 Maine Press Association’s Weekend Sports Feature of the Year, first place; 2007, 2012, 2013 Maine Press Association’s Weekend Sports Feature of the Year, second place; 2007 Maine Press Association’s Daily Sports Feature of the Year, first place; 1999, 2005, 2012 Maine Press Association’s Daily Sports Feature of the Year, second place; 2003 Maine Press Association’s Daily Sports Feature of the Year, third place; 2001, 2013 New England Press Association’s Weekend Sports Feature of the Year, second place.

He also received the 2002 Maine Basketball Coaches Association’s Media Award, and the 2009 Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrator’s Association Media Award, which serves to show how well Kevin built relationships, not only with athletes, but with coaches and administrators.

In 2009, Kevin released his first historical novel, “Sons and Daughters of the Ocean.” He followed that with subsequent novels “Breakwater” in 2011 and “Sea of Liberty” in 2014. Also in 2011, he released “Sidelined,” a book of short stories about his life as a sports writer.

“We sportswriters have a habit for getting too wrapped up in our work, but Kevin established himself far beyond the walls of 104 Park St.,” Oakes said. “His ability to publish books and develop his brand in that area was something I admired and envied. Most of us just talk about doing that sort of thing someday. Kevin did it.”

He was a well-respected journalist, a gifted writer, a talented storyteller, a loyal colleague and a trusted friend.

He will be dearly missed.

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