LEWISTON — If you were to name a public health issue from the last few decades, it’s likely Ronnie Paradis could tell you about it. 

Earlier in the decade it was swine flu, then it was bath salts. For the past few years it’s been lead poisoning and housing safety. 

As a public health nurse for the state of Maine, she’s seen a lot. But her long professional career also spilled over to volunteerism when she joined the local public health advisory board, which at the time was a joint Lewiston-Auburn initiative.

Now, a few years retired, Paradis is the chairwoman of the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee, a volunteer board re-starting in 2016 (without Auburn) that advises the City Council on local health issues. 

Paradis, 69, said that before the public health committee was formed, there was no one at City Hall to answer questions about health issues. In the decades prior, it was common for municipalities to have a city nurse and some still have public health departments. 

She said former Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau worked with her to establish the original Lewiston-Auburn committee in 2009. Since then, she’s tackled issues as complex as domestic violence, sexual assault and vaccinations, to ones as simple as shoveling sidewalks. 


But the bulk of the committee’s work of late has been housing safety, particularly on Lewiston’s lead poisoning issue.

Paradis had already been working on the issue as a nurse, and was familiar with the prevalence of lead in downtown apartment buildings. She also grew up on Pine Street and used to play with friends in a number of the buildings.

Now, the city offers grants to landlords for lead abatement projects, but hundreds of units have yet to be abated. 

“We’ve gone down, but it’s still high,” she said referring to lead.

Paradis, along with co-chairwoman Erin Guay, also recently joined Mayor Shane Bouchard’s rental registration committee, which is taking the long view to housing safety and whether the city should use a fee-based registration program

The public health committee teamed up with city code enforcement to draft a framework of the plan earlier this year, but the proposal went back to the drawing board after landlord pushback. 


“What it’s come down to is safe housing,” Paradis said, referring to the committee’s scope of work. 

She said she’d like to see an orientation program for landlords and tenants, and a better data collection system that can be shared more easily among both groups. 

She said from her experience, public health work is about being proactive in order to prevent large-scale health issues. 

Paradis has lived in Lewiston most of her life, except for a few years when she was at nursing school in Portland and working in Bangor and Houlton.

She may have received some of her knack for public service from her late husband, Mark Paradis, a longtime city councilor and mayoral candidate who died in 2011, just five days before a runoff election with Bob Macdonald. Paradis lost by 70 votes. 

Paradis is a former member of the Lewiston School Committee (1998-2012) and still serves on the school’s facilities committee and the building committee for the new elementary school. 


Asked why she continues to serve, trudging to late-night meetings, Paradis said it’s important to stay active.

“It keeps your body going, it keeps your mind going,” she said. “I don’t like to be sitting around doing nothing.” 

Kristen Cloutier, the City Council president who also serves on the public health committee, said because Lewiston doesn’t have a public health department, the  committee collaborates with various public health initiatives to “fill that void, advising the City Council on topics related to public health and helping them to create sound public health policy.”

She said Paradis “has been a champion for the city of Lewiston for her entire life, committing her time and energy to issues related to public health and the ways those issues affect our most vulnerable populations.”

Cloutier said that during her time as a public health nurse in Lewiston, Paradis spent time in people’s homes, and worked with them to create individual health management plans.

Because of that, she knows the issues particular to Lewiston. 


“Ronnie is a fierce public health advocate and I am honored to have served alongside her on the committee and happy to call her a friend,” she said. 

Next up, Paradis said, the committee is looking at a range of issues, from disaster planning to the opioid crisis and an unsuspected rise in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases. 

The next meeting of the public health committee is at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, in the third floor conference room at City Hall. 

At her home on Prospect Avenue, Paradis said she always told herself she’d be “an outrageous old lady.” 

“I like to be involved,” she said. “I like to have my two cents’ worth in.” 

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at arice@sunjournal.com and we’ll do the rest.

Ronnie Paradis at her home recently on Prospect Avenue in Lewiston. Paradis, a former School Committee member and public health nurse, now devotes her time to the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee. (Andrew Rice/Sun Journal) 

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