PORTLAND — One of the nation’s three remaining Shakers, the last of his generation in a famous American family, a longtime football coach at Syracuse University and the author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” are among people with ties to Maine who died in 2017.

The deaths included a boy whose dying wish tugged at heartstrings: He celebrated an early Christmas before succumbing to cancer.

Hundreds packed the dwelling house at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake to celebrate the life of Sister Frances Carr after her death at 89.

Her passing on Jan. 2 left only two Shakers at the only active Shaker community, in the town of New Gloucester. The Shakers’ numbers declined because members are celibate and the group stopped taking orphans like Carr, who arrived as a 10-year-old.

Carr remained hopeful that her religious community would grow and bristled when her group was referred to as the “last Shakers.”

Other notable deaths:


• David Rockefeller, a banker and philanthropist with long ties to Mount Desert Island, died on March 20 at age 101 in Pocantico Hills, New York. He was the son of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and grandson of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller Sr. His oceanfront estate at Seal Harbor is being sold with proceeds going to charity. In his will, he left $20 million to the Land and Garden Preserve of Mount Desert Island and $5 million to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

• Old Town native Dick MacPherson was a beloved football coach at Syracuse University, where he compiled a 66-46-4 record, departing as the school’s second-winningest coach. MacPherson was a three-sport star in Old Town High School and played center on the football team at Springfield College. He died on Aug. 8 in Syracuse at age 86.

• Robert M. Pirsig was author of the philosophical novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” which became a cultural touchstone. The book, published in 1974, was based on a motorcycle trip Pirsig took with his 12-year-old son. The tale of a road trip interspersed with philosophy suited a generation’s yearning for the open road and skepticism of modern values. He was 88 when he died April 24 in South Berwick.

• The story of 9-year-old Jacob Thompson and his family’s desire to celebrate Christmas one final time inspired people across the country. The Saco boy loved penguins and adopted the motto to “live like a penguin,” which means, his mother said, “Be friendly, stand by each other, go the extra mile, jump into life and be cool.” Two penguins visited him at Maine Medical Center before his death on Nov. 19.

• Dan Lilley, a well-known defense lawyer whose legal victories included winning an acquittal for a woman who shot her husband 15 times, died March 11 at 79. In 1990, Lilley used a “battered wife syndrome” defense to win acquittal for an Ogunquit restaurateur who shot her husband so many times she had to stop to reload. He played a role in many other high-profile cases including the prostitution scandal centered on a Zumba studio in Kennebunk.

• Neil Rolde was a politician, historian and author who worked to save Portsmouth Naval Shipyard both times it appeared on a closure list. Rolde was a state representative from 1974 to 1999 before he lost a U.S. Senate bid to Republican Bill Cohen. The longtime Democrat led the charge to save the shipyard when it was threatened with closure. He died at age 85 on May 15.


• Holocaust survivor Kurt Messerschmidt was separated from his wife in 1944 by the Nazis before reuniting with her at a refugee center after the war. The lifelong musician was a leader in the Jewish community. He led choir groups and taught music programs at Temple Beth El. He died at 102 on Sept. 12 in Portland.

• Alan Hutchinson, who died on Aug. 27 at 70, served for 20 years as executive director of the Forest Society of Maine, a small nonprofit that became one of the nation’s largest land trusts. Hutchinson played a major role in conserving more than 1 million acres, including the shoreline of Moosehead Lake, the West Branch of the Penobscot Mountain and Big Spencer Mountain.

• Peter Alfond was a philanthropist and business executive who was a member of one of the most influential families in Maine. The son of Harold Alfond and Dorothy “Bibby” Alfond was a trustee of the Harold Alfond Foundation and a philanthropist on his own through the Peter Alfond Foundation. The Florida resident died July 10 from complications from malaria that he contracted on a trip to Africa.

• Maine state Rep. Gina Mason died unexpectedly at age 57 on Sept. 5, prompting a special election won by her husband. Her son, Garrett Mason, is running for governor. Her service as a public official included the Lisbon Town Council. She also served on the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

In this Sept. 13, 1995 file photo, Sister Frances Carr, left, and Brother Arnold Hadd of the Shaker Village in Sabbathday Lake, Maine, sing with the Boston Camerata during a rehearsal at the Warwick Hotel in New York. Carr, one of the last remaining Shakers, died Jan. 2, 2017, after a brief battle with cancer. She was 89 and is among notable people who died in 2017. (AP Photo/Adam Nadel, File)

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