LEWISTON — Phil Nadeau had already joined the U.S. Air Force, worked in the wine business, refereed college volleyball, launched a business, lost a business and led Richmond as town manager.
Thirteen years ago he answered a newspaper ad for assistant city administrator.
“This job, this profession, is clearly the one I’ve enjoyed the most,” Nadeau, 57, said. “I don’t know if I found it, or it found me, but I’m glad we got together.”
Nadeau was born in Lewiston. By the time he graduated from St. Dom’s he’d put many years in two family businesses, Nadeau’s Market, his grandparents’ grocery store on the corner of Walnut and Bartlett streets, and his father’s nearby catering company.
“You were pressed into service pretty young and you understood what it was to put in a full day’s work,” he said.
Nadeau, his brother and sisters worked every holiday and weekends. There were chairs to be lugged, tables to be set up.
He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1972 at 17 and was stationed in Washington, D.C., given a job at headquarters inside the Pentagon.
“It made me grow up and it gave me the opportunity to live in another city, get another perspective,” he said.
It also led to his future wife. Marcia, in the Navy, also worked at the Pentagon, in the office of the Secretary of Defense. Both lived at nearby Fort Myer.
“We could see each other’s dorm rooms,” he said. “When we started dating, one of the things we would do was flip our shades in Morse code.”
They returned to Lewiston when he was accepted at Bates College, though money for school ran out after three semesters. Other work followed in the beer and wine business.
When he launched a deli with his brother and father it seemed to take off, Nadeau said, only to get hit by the tough economy in 1988. After fire destroyed the family business on Walnut and Bartlett, he lost his job, the couple lost their house, and they started over. Part of that do-over: finishing his degree in public administration at the University of Maine in Augusta.
“I thought I was going to have to live near the Canadian border, buy snowshoes and prepare myself for long winters,” Nadeau said. “I was really fortunate Richmond was willing to take a chance.”
He’d been town manager there five years when Marcia spotted the Lewiston job opening in January 1999. The title has changed since then. Nadeau is now deputy city administrator and go-to on any number of issues in the city.
“It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time,” he said. “I’m somebody who has never been afraid of diving in and taking something on.”
There have been challenges, he said, but, “Those are the experiences that make you who you are.”
Nadeau is eyeing 2015 to retire from his current post, then, see what comes. He’d like to give Marcia a little warm weather.
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