Sometime in the 1980s, Warden John Ford’s dream job took a turn for the worst. Under the leadership of the then controversial Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Glenn Manual, Maine Game Wardens were ordered to work no more than a 40-hour week and to vastly curtail their mileage.

“It got to a point where I just couldn’t do my job. I was ripped,” Ford says. “Our hands were tied.”

Under the new regime, Ford found himself responsible for 164 towns and a strict mileage quota.

” It was a joke,” Ford says.

Ford almost got himself fired, he says, when, in a fit of disgust after being called out in the middle of the night to cover towns that were too far apart, he made an impulsive call to the state police dispatcher. He told the dispatcher to immediately contact Manual and give him this message: “This is Warden John Ford. I have 164 towns to patrol tonight. Which one would you like me to go to?”

Yes, there were consequences. The union helped Ford save his job, but the state police dispatcher read him the riot act. And his boss, Warden Lt. John Crabtree, took Ford to the proverbial woodshed and, in Ford’s words, “Reamed me a new one.”

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There was one tiny ray of sunshine. It couldn’t be told at the time, but the top warden, Col. John Marsh, made a clandestine phone call to Ford who smiles as he tells it. “The colonel says, ‘John, if you tell anyone I called you, I’ll kill you, but I have only one thing to say about your 2 a.m. call to the commissioner: Good for you, John.'”

Ford got in trouble a few others times for speaking out to his superiors when his enforcement duties were being hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape. He said that once, when Lt. Crabtree showed up, along with Warden Sgt. Roger Wolverton, for what had become a classic John Ford butt chewing, Sgt. Wolverton gently suggested that Ford and Crabtree unstrap their gun belts before going behind closed doors.

Although he loved warden work, Ford says that late in his warden service hitch he began to realize that “the job as I know it is gone.” He felt that it was just a matter of time before Augusta would let him go. So he hung up his warden hat and ran for Waldo County sheriff and got the job. He served two terms until 1990 and then another term down the road.

Ford married his wife Judy in 1972. She was from Belmont, and he met her through a friend. As a young couple, they lived in a warden camp in Burnham. He said that Judy, who worked at a local bank, wasn’t really crazy about the warden camp, but she endured it and him and his crazy hours.

For Warden Ford, interlaced with all of this law enforcement action, was a scary encounter with cancerous lymphoma and the associated treatments . In 1995, Ford lingered on the brink of death at a Boston hospital while doctors performed a stem cell transplant in his bone marrow.

Ford’s amazing physical resiliency is matched by his positive attitude and courageous philosophical approach to his brushes with death and his medical setbacks. Brought up as a Baptist, Ford is certain that God has spared him for a reason and he is grateful to his creator. He prays often and his faith has not been diminished by his bouts with cancer.

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At 68, Ford is not out of the woods medically. He recently underwent more radiation therapy for a return of his melanoma. He is taking one day at a time.

As mentioned earlier in this story, Ford’s two books have both been an unqualified success. The first book, “Suddenly the Cider Didn’t taste So Good” has sold 18,000 copies. Since his book was published, Ford has been on the road peddling his books and conducting dozens of speaking engagements around Maine.

“So far I have been to 80 Maine libraries,” Ford says.

He is working on a third book with an area publisher.

”This will be more of a personal book and will include some of my art work,” Ford says.

A capable artist who may have inherited his flair from his artist mom, Ford has over the years created some high quality wildlife calendars. He says he no longer paints because “there just hasn’t been any inspiration.”

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Ford, who should be an inspiration for any upcoming game warden, says he advises young wardens to be sure and keep a journal of their game-warden experiences. Ford’s stepfather, Vern Walker, similarly advised Ford to do so when he was a rookie “woods cop.”

Folks who enjoy John Ford’s amusingly warm and wonderful tales, and there are growing legions of Ford followers, no doubt are pleased that his stepfather offered such good counsel. The truth is, though — and Ford would never say this — not all game wardens, no matter how dedicated and hardworking, could do what he has done with his life and for so many others. Ford has a knack, a deep, God-given appreciation for his fellow man, and an uncommon capacity to laugh at himself and never, never takes life or himself too seriously.

The magnitude of his contribution, perhaps, is illustrated by an interesting recent development. Ford was invited to be the commencement speaker this June at Foxcroft Academy in Dover Foxcroft.

Imagine,” he exclaims, “Me being invited to be a commencement speaker! I can hardly believe it.”

You can believe it, and bet your boots that, come graduation day in Dover Foxcroft, John Ford will have those high school graduates rolling in the aisles.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He isalso a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.” Online information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.


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