LEWISTON — The eve of the Business-to-Business trade show finds Lucien Gosselin in a pensive mood.

By now, of course, almost everyone has heard that Gosselin will retire as president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council at the end of June. Surely, this will be the talk of the trade show; which, by the way, Gosselin founded.

At first, it appears he has no interest in talking about the end of his great run.

“It feels great,” he said, and that’s all. It appears Gosselin may go quietly into semi-retirement.

There is silence. After a few seconds of it, Gosselin sighs.

“I’m pushing 73,” he said. “I’m in good health. It’s just time to pass the baton to someone else.”

Gosselin has been in the middle of things in Lewiston for more than half a century — nearly 52 years, to be precise. He joined the city staff in 1963, working as an administrative assistant in the office of Civil Defense. He became a clerk of the controller’s office later that year and eventually rose to the title of city controller. After a new City Charter was adopted in 1980 and the job of city administrator was created, he filled that position until June 1989.

He went on to work for the Sisters of Charity Health System — operators of St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center — W.S. Libbey Co., and the Maine Development Foundation before joining the Growth Council.

It’s been a long run of public service and yes, Gosselin said, there is a temptation to keep on rolling. But the same smarts that kept him at the center of the business scene seem to be nudging him toward retirement, or at least his version of it.

“So many of my friends and colleagues pushed it to the limit,” he said. “They wound up suffering strokes, personal injuries or other health problems. I don’t want to wait for it to reach that point.”

Not, mind you, that Gosselin will disappear from view. He may sleep a little later most mornings and cut back on the 55 hours he usually works, but he’ll be here. Part of that is almost certainly a sense of familiarity, of course, but another part is a good, old-fashioned sense of obligation.

“I’ll be around the community for a while,” Gosselin said. “I’m not planning to retire out of state.”

He figures his actual retirement will take place at St. Peter’s Cemetery. It’s meant to be a joke, but there’s a level of sincerity about the comment. Gosselin helped build this community; wandering away from it now would almost seem traitorous.

“I’ve had a nice career,” he said. “They’ve paid me well over the years. I feel it’s only right that I pay my dues.”

Some might say he’s paid those dues many times over. Reading through Gosselin’s resume takes a while. It includes the positions of Lewiston city administrator, director of finance, controller, executive officer, community development director, assistant controller, chairman of the City Charter Review Committee, staff to the 1979 Charter Commission, as well as numerous state and local boards and committees.

He talks about the ups and downs of that public service, refusing to be pinned down on one specific high or a particular low.

“Sometimes, you have a great city council that’s very supportive,” he said. “Other times, you end up with a council that makes it difficult to get things done. We did as much as we could with what we had.”

That’s a modest way to put it, which Gosselin’s friends will tell you is his style.

“He’s the most self-effacing man you’ll ever know,” said Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. “He never toots his own horn. He’s a very serious and quiet guy with a wry sense of humor. He’s clearly an introvert.”

Morrison would know, of course. He’s worked alongside Gosselin for 36 years. At one time, Gosselin was the city administrator while Morrison was his counterpart on the other side of the river.

Along with Morrison, Gosselin was instrumental in setting up a tax-sharing system between the two cities, specifically around the industrial park near the airport in Auburn, and the hydro station at Great Falls. That system has worked well, even if nobody else seems to be doing it.

“Municipalities don’t commonly share with each other,” Morrison said. “Not where taxes are concerned.”

Gosselin also wrote Lewiston’s very first City Charter, creating the system that exists today.

Lewiston-Auburn College is so established in the community that most people don’t remember a time when it seemed the wing of the University of Southern Maine system would never make it here. Several people made it so, but none worked harder on the mission than Gosselin.

“He’s the godfather of that,” Morrison said. “He was absolutely instrumental, the driving force. That turned out to be one of those watershed moments for the community.”

Awards? Gosselin has those. They include the “Linc Stackpole Manager of the Year” Award from the Maine Town and City Managers Association in 1988. In 1997, he received the Education-Business Partnership Award for outstanding leadership as chairman of the Lewiston-Auburn College Community Advisory Board from the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce.

This year, the Pine Tree Council of Boy Scouts named Gosselin their citizen of the year.

“They picked the right person,” Morrison said.

Gerard Dennison thinks so, too. As a member of the LAEGC Executive Committee and an Auburn city councilor, Dennison hired Gosselin. It turned out to be a good move.

“During his tenure, thousands of new jobs were created and the Wal-Mart Distribution Center deal he put together may never be duplicated in our lifetime,” Dennison said of Gosselin. “In addition, industrial parks expanded in both cities and he brought a free-trade zone to the Auburn Industrial Park.”

Dennison added, “He effectively used loan pools to provide gap financing to help small businesses start up and expand. Lucien Gosselin was the L-A Economic Growth Council. He was able to keep the growth council together. And his leadership put L-A on the map with ‘L-A: It’s Happening Here!’ His overall knowledge, experience, leadership and lifetime commitment to the Twin Cities cannot be replaced.”

The LAEGC is seeking applications and preparing to conduct interviews for Gosselin’s replacement.

“He was part of the original creation of the growth council,” said Mark Adams, chairman of the council’s board of directors. “He was integrally involved in growth and development of joint services, the growth council being a pre-eminent part of them. He really helped all of that movement along initially. And then to come back for 16 years to become part of it and to serve it so well, that was pretty important for the two communities.”

Gosselin knows the importance of the transition — the passing of the baton — and said he will do whatever he can to make that process as smooth as possible.

But after 52 years of 10-hour days and all of the drama of city government, the lure of a silent alarm clock is there.

“At this point, I’m not sure what the work is going to look like when I don’t have to get up in the morning,” Gosselin said. “I want to see what that feels like. I’ve never worked less than 50 or 55 hours a week. I just want to enjoy that quality of life.”

In another story about another man, this might be the time to make an obligatory comment about golf or fishing. Insert a fond remark from a colleague and you’re done. Thank you for your service and don’t be a stranger.

But when Gosselin said he’s not going to be very far away, he means it. On Tuesday, voters in Lewiston and Auburn chose people to sit on the Lewiston-Auburn Charter Commission aimed at exploring ways to combine the two cities. Gosselin was one of three selected in Lewiston.

“That will keep me busy for a year, a year and a half,” Gosselin said.

At this, Morrison laughs. It’s no surprise to him that Gosselin has taken on another task, even as such fuss is made about his retirement.

“That’s prototypical Lucien,” he said. “That’s OK, because I don’t think Anna would want him around the house full time, anyway.”

If Gosselin chooses to stay involved, you can hardly blame him. In his candidate profile on the matter of combining the cities, Gosselin had plenty to say on the matter.

“Consolidation can bring about greater economy of scale, effectiveness and efficiencies,” Gosselin said in May. “There will be short-term savings and even greater long-term savings in operational and capital program areas. A consolidated L-A can become the largest city in Maine.”

Now that Gosselin’s career is (sort of) winding to a close, how will he be remembered? Gosselin mostly shrugs off the question.

“People have long memories,” he said. “They don’t seem to remember the good things you did. They remember the time you had to say ‘no’ because you didn’t have enough money in the budget.”

That’s OK. His legacy speaks for itself. Trying to pin down all of the projects in which Gosselin has been a part is a days-long endeavor. Morrison sums it up with ease.

“He’s done remarkable work for his entire career,” he said. “He’s been just wonderful.”

In fact, Gosselin has been the “driving force for economic development in the Twin Cities,” said Martin Eisenstein, senior partner at the law firm Brann & Isaacson.

“He has caused Lewiston-Auburn to look to the future, rather than think morosely about the past, and has inspired generations of current and future leaders to work energetically to benefit the community,” Eisenstein said. “As a former chair, and current member, of the board of the LAEGC, I can say without equivocation that Lucien’s efforts during the last 20 years have catapulted Lewiston-Auburn to be the model for other communities in Maine. We will miss him.”

Everybody retires in his or her own way. Gosselin appears to be on the taper routine. By late Wednesday afternoon, he was preparing for the trade show on Thursday. After that, it will be on to the work of the Charter Commission. He has only so much time for reflection on his years in service.

“It’s been fun,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world.”

Business to Business Trade Show

LEWISTON — The annual Business to Business Trade Show will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee. It is the largest one-day trade show in Maine.

This is the 19th year for the show, which is hosted by the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. The theme for this year’s show is “Building For the Future.”

The show will feature 165 exhibitors from Maine and New England and will be set up inside and outside the Colisee, including for-profits, nonprofits, schools and municipalities. Some of the exhibitors include the Twin Cities’ new Emerge Film Festival, which will kick off Friday, the Red Claws, The Public Theatre and a number of restaurants and banks along with media, public relations, medical and legal professionals. 

The event is open to the public and there is no cost to attend. Attendees are asked to bring business cards.

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