LEWISTON – He thanked the city for introducing him to his wife. For inspiring his career choice as a doctor. For teaching him, the hard way, that he had better improve his English.

“High school sophomore English was very traumatic,” Dr. Bernard Lown told a crowd at the Franco-American Heritage Center. Back in 1935, the teacher thought he was a bumbling idiot. Lown caused a stir when he read aloud in class, “I was lying on the bitch.”

(Presumably, instead of “beach.”)

When the audience stopped howling with laughter Friday, he added, with deadpan delivery:

“I was kept back and I received an ‘F’ for the year.”

Lown, 87, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, returned to his adopted hometown to see state bridge No. 3330, known as South Bridge between Lewiston and Auburn, become the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge.

Before unveiling monuments in both cities, Lown gave a half-hour talk interrupted with laughter and applause.

A state legislator read a proclamation from Gov. John Baldacci declaring Friday “Bernard Lown Day” and citing Lown’s achievements, such as co-founding the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, developing the defibrillator and generally bettering mankind.

“At this stage in my life, to be greeted with such words, I’m convinced a eulogy will be a nonevent,” Lown said.

He moved to Lewiston at age 14, escaping Lithuania with his family, and graduated from Lewiston High School in 1938. His wife Louise, from the class of 1940, was his first unofficial English teacher. He called his wife of nearly 63 years wise, kind, forgiving and interesting.

The pair live in Massachusetts now and spend summers in Maine.

“She has been the best choice I have ever made in my life,” Lown said. “So once again, thank you, Lewiston.”

It was a local surgeon, Dr. Max Hirshler, who inspired Lown to go into medicine. He had wanted to be a foreign correspondent.

But listening to the German-born older doctor once over tea, Lown was spellbound.

“I concluded that doctors were the cultural vanguard of civilization,” Lown said. And maybe that didn’t prove entirely true, but he enjoyed it. Lown retired from cardiology only two years ago.

It was during a historic 1937 Auburn shoe strike, when Lown crossed the picket line to work under his father at Lown Shoe, that he learned the power of outrage. He saw picketers being abused and arrested, and he quit.

“Thank you, Lewiston-Auburn, for sharpening my moral sensibilities while I was still an impressionable youngster,” Lown said.

He took issue with how much money is going toward the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while needs are left unfunded at home. It costs $500,000 to fire one Tomahawk missile in Afghanistan, Lown said, the same amount it costs to build 20 schools there. Which, he asked the audience of about 200, paves the way to peace?

“I am therefore proud that my hometown is celebrating peace,” he said. “I thank you for honoring me in such a meaningful way.”

Outside, he clipped a ribbon held by both mayors at the middle of the bridge, and led by the Edward Little High School band, lifted the covers off both monuments.

“Honestly, I thought it was a good speech, I thought it was beautiful. He put a lot of thought into it,” said Edward Little sophomore Kotye Howard.

Carole Wise, an adviser for the civil rights team at Edward Little, brought 10 students to the event.

“I wanted them to actually be part of history, a living history,” she said.

Al Harvie, the man who initiated the effort to name the bridge after Lown, was the morning’s master of ceremonies. He said the dedication wouldn’t have been possible without the schools, the donors who came forward and the community coming together.

“Sometimes you dream it and it doesn’t come true. You always work toward your dreams,” he said.

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