Mention the name “Hathaway” in Maine and one is likely to think “shirt.” That’s not the way it should be.

After all, there’s no longer a Hathaway Shirt Company and though Bill Hathaway is no longer a senator, he has returned to Maine this summer, carrying a legacy more enduring than the clothing that once put Waterville on the map.

He first captured national attention as a Democrat congressman, elected by 43,000 votes in 1964. He won more resounding notice eight years later, when he defeated Sen. Margaret Chase Smith in the biggest electoral upset in the country that year. It took the Hollywood-like glamour of 38-year-old William Cohen, a future U.S. Secretary of Defense, to end Hathaway’s own Senate tenure in 1978.

But there’s more to Hathaway than a political footnote who served between two icons. The man who served 14 years representing Maine in Washington has his own epic dimensions. Opening West Point and the other service academies to accept women, or putting an imprint on such labor legislation as OSHA, are but two of the hallmarks.

The most dramatic episode in Hathaway’s public service odyssey occurred when he was just 20. It was 1944; he was a just-wounded navigator on a B-24 shot down in a bombing run targeting giant German oil refineries in Romania. Miraculously, Hathaway along with eight of the 10 other crew members parachutes to the ground. They spend three months in a German prison camp in Bucharest before being liberated by the Soviets. This achievement earns Hathaway the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, Hathaway returned to Boston, where he had grown up in a middle-class section of the city’s Allston neighborhood. He remembers when the Boston Braves were still there. Though he liked the Red Sox, the “Braves were a little more generous. They let you in, the kids in, after the seventh inning, any day you wanted to go over there, as long as it wasn’t packed — and it wasn’t packed very often!”

The Braves, who departed Boston in 1951, remained close to Hathaway during his academic career, first at Harvard, then at Harvard Law School, from which he graduates in 1953. Like his Braves, Hathaway also considers leaving the city, and learns from a classmate about an chance to join Frank Coffin’s Lewiston practice.

The opportunity to join Coffin is appealing because the practice would enable Hathaway to pursue a general practice, instead of the specialties demanded in Boston. Besides, Maine is a place he visited frequently growing up, and where an aunt and an uncle on each side of his family have long resided.

Coffin doesn’t stay around long, devoting much of his time to both a Portland-based trial practice and joining Ed Muskie to reorganize Maine’s Democratic party. Within a few months, Hathaway is left to fend for himself, a struggling Lisbon Street private practitioner. By 1955, however, Hathaway’s talents drew the attention of Androscoggin County’s new county attorney, Gaston Dumais, who appoints Hathaway his part-time assistant, a position he holds for the next two years.

“You got to try cases almost every day of the week,” Hathaway recalled for this columnist. “They were wonderful experiences. Every kind of trial you could think of from going through a stop sign to murder.” Hathaway juggles this work with a diverse private practice, in which he collaborates frequently with the late Frank Linnell, still today a local legal legend.

By fall of 1957, Hathaway leaves the county attorney’s office to supplement his law practice as $133-per-week hearing examiner for the State Liquor Commission, traveling throughout the state to judge whether businesses would lose their right to sell alcohol. Usually, the cases entail allegations of selling to underage customers, though others are more scintillating. Among them is whether a Portland hotel could keep its license after being challenged for its “near nude” entertainment. (Hathaway ruled it could.)

By the time Hathaway’s term with the liquor commission expires 1961, Maine Democrats are reeling from defeat at the hands of a rejuvenated GOP, which swept to victory in all major contests in the 1960 elections. Hathaway agrees to undertake the thankless toil of opposing five-term Republican incumbent Congressman Clif McIntire in 1962 in new, expanded 2nd District, the largest east of the Mississippi. (It still is.)

Hathaway runs an aggressive campaign, drawing contrasts between McIntire’s conservative voting record and Hathaway’s more liberal positions, particularly on labor issues. He wins an impressive 49 percent of the vote and soon after is elected chair of the state Democratic Party.

Despite his increased involvement with politics, Hathaway still continues his private practice, which now includes case appointments from a renowned guardian of consumer interests, Dick Poulos, head of southern Maine’s bankruptcy system.

His ten years in Maine until then touched upon virtually every facet the legal system. He became poised to not only apply the law, but embark on a career that will make it, not to mention a lot of history to go with it.

More in a future column.

Paul H. Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of Maine’s political scene. He can be reached by e-mail: [email protected]

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