Pair of activists

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LITCHFIELD – In 1985, law school graduate Beth Nagusky applied for a job at a two-lawyer law firm in Winthrop.

She didn’t get the job.

But, four years later, she married one of two lawyers who interviewed her, Steve Wessler. The other, Mike Levey, performed the wedding ceremony.

Married for 17 years, each is well known.

Nagusky, 53, worked as an environmental activist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine and, until a few weeks ago, was Gov. John Baldacci’s lead staffer for energy conservation.

Wessler, 55, advocated against hate crime and for consumers in the Attorney General’s Office. Today he’s the executive director for the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence in Portland.

But they’re less known as a couple.

“When the conversation turns to energy and Beth’s name comes up,” Wessler mentions she’s his wife. The reaction is often one of disbelief. “I’m constantly surprised,” he said.

Several years ago when working for the AG’s office, Wessler was meeting with an oil dealer executive. Nagusky at the time was an environmental activist, no friend of that executive. He saw her picture in Wessler’s office. “He turned pale for a second and said, ‘You’re not married to her, are you?'” Wessler recalled while chuckling. The meeting continued past the awkward moment. “He kept on shaking his head.”

When Nagusky and Wessler met at that 1985 job interview, he was married. Several years later when he divorced, they knew each other. Both had mutual friends, lived close to each other, and had similar interests. “We’d go for bike rides, hiking and going out with friends,” Wessler said. Friendship evolved into love.

When they married each had their own “family.” An animal lover, she had a dog and horse. He had two sons, 5 and 7. These days Molly the dog greets visitors at their country home. Her horse, Djembe, is boarded at a stable for the winter. Both show off pictures of Seth and Nate at one of the boys’ college graduation.

They still enjoy outdoor activities: canoeing, biking, hiking, ice skating and snowshoeing.

“Global warming is really messing us up,” she said.

Nagusky said there are several reasons why she fell in love with Wessler. “I liked his compassion, his values, his good looks of course, his intellect, his kindness. Steve is what we call a ‘mensch’ in Yiddish. It means a really good guy.”

Steve says he loves her warmth, intelligence, her beauty, sense of humor and most of all her spirit. When fighting for something “she just does not give up,” he said. That makes her an effective advocate.

His love for her grew deeper, he said, watching the way she handled a Dec. 23, 2003, diagnosis that she had breast cancer. “Her courage and dealing with that was just remarkable. She’s gutsy.”

Her fight against it the cancer “was with a tremendous amount of optimism and energy,” Wessler said, tearing up as he spoke.

“I had a very supportive partner,” she interjected. “Every doctor visit, every everything, he was there.”

In the month following her diagnosis, she underwent surgery, then radiation treatments. “Radiation just sucks the energy out,” he said. “She’d go to work, come home and collapse.”

Five months after her surgery, Nagusky ran in a race for breast cancer survivors in Bangor. Among the survivors who ran, she won.

So far, she’s licked the cancer. Her mammograms have come back clean.

In that race, all survivors were given a light green and pink handkerchief. She gave her handkerchief to Wessler.

“I keep it with me all the time,” he said, pulling it out of the canvass bag he uses as a briefcase. It symbolizes his wife, “and that spirit.”

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