Oxford County Administrator Donald Durrah, second from left, stands with Oxford County Commissioners, from left, Steven Merrill of Norway, Chairman Timothy Turner of Buckfield and David Duguay of Byron when he was appointed permanent County Administrator in July 2021. Oxford County photo

On Nov. 1, Oxford County lost what its employees consider its greatest leader.

Oxford County staff have memorialized County Administrator Donald “Donnie” Durrah’s parking spot after his unexpected passing Nov. 1. Nichole Cargnino, administrative assistant to Durrah, added the bench and plant from Young’s Greenhouse as a temporary tribute to Durrah noting how difficult it would be to see someone else’s vehicle there right away. A.M. Sheehan/Advertiser Democrat

Oxford County Administrator Donald “Donnie” Durrah, Jr., 50, of Lewiston died unexpectedly, having worked for the county since 2019.

He initially came to Oxford County to head up the Oxford County Regional Communications Center in June of 2019, becoming administrator July 25, 2021, after serving six months as the interim.

To a one, his staff say they were inspired by him and that he turned the county around during his tenure.

“He was the most caring, capable leader that we could have hoped for,” said Deputy Register of Deeds Darren Goyette.
Goyette, who has only been with the county since February, said Durrah had a huge impact [on him] in a short time.

“Donnie was a people person and a ‘fixer,’” Said Jail Administrator Dana Dillingham.


“When he came on board here there were issues in the Oxford County Regional Communications Center,” Dillingham continued. “He had it turned around in a very short period of time.

“Very similar to when he took over as County Administrator. Donnie just had a way to make things better on any given day.”

Every staff member who spoke about Durrah echoed these sentiments and repeated laudatory adjectives. No one had any buts. All seemed amazed that they had found themselves in a work environment where they truly mattered, were listened to and supported.

“Donnie respected me as an individual and as a department head,” said Register of Deeds Cherrie Crockett. “He made it known his door was always open … for anyone needing space from the day or to talk through ideas.”

“He was a true leader from Day One,” she continued. “He changed [our] definition of what it meant to lead. He shared a vision which was clear from the beginning: Trust, respect, dedication, transparency, preparedness and with that, we would experience growth.”

“He would lead people to their own conclusions,” noted Goyette, “with his insight and gentle style of leadership. He would inspire people to do their work and would ensure that they had the tools [to do so]. He promoted a philosophy of autonomy that empowered people” but he also could see the downside of an idea or plan but would always have a contingency plan. “He was a man who listened more than he talked.”


Goyette said his passing was a huge loss not just to employees but to the taxpayers as well. “He fostered integrity, competence and a vision for the future.

“He had the best interests of the people in the county and in the state … it was never what he had done but what we were doing.”

County Emergency Management Agency Director Allyson Hill described the “work magic” she discovered in Durrah. “A Regional Communications Director who understood the role of Emergency Management and that our partnership could strengthen all aspects of response and readiness for those we serve.” Within the public safety realm, Hill said Durrah would “talk through issues and long-standing processes that needed to evolve to make us all better at what we do.”

Hill described how Durrah “was passionate about getting us all together as a cohesive group of public servants, creating a strong foundation of individuals who reached out when we needed help.

“He created a new path for working together on countywide issues and supporting one another when one department was struggling with an issue or incident. He made the hard decisions and actions seem easy and was always there to have your back or even step in front of you to directly address the issue at hand with his stern, but honest and realistic perspective on nearly any matter.”

Probate Court Clerk Hope Wilson called Durrah “an amazing mentor.”


“He has done so much for the county and towns in general,” she said. “And he saw you as an individual not just an employee.”

Wilson said she started working at the county in the DA’s office and wanted a change. Durrah suggested she try probate, saying it would be a good fit. “He was very right, I couldn’t be happier.”

Wilson recalled how Durrah would always listen “and he remembered things” even personal conversations. “Every morning he would be sitting in his truck [when she arrived at work] and he would wave at everyone. What a great way to start the day.”

“He had an amazing way of understanding and speaking with employees,” said Executive Assistant to the County Commissioners Abby Shanor. “I think from his dispatch experience he knew how to talk to people and calm them so he could get to the problem. People [taxpayers] would come in just to talk with him.

“The culture here really changed,” Shanor continued, “when he took over. If there was a change he wanted to make he would ask everyone ‘how will this work for your department’ and he’d find a way to get everyone to the same place … he didn’t work from the top down but with each of us … you always felt heard.”

“He gave us the support and care each of us needed to do what we do for the citizens and agencies of Oxford County,” Hill said. “He lightened our load through the most challenging of situations and did it with strength, clarity, and levity and always had time for every staff member if they needed an ear or heartfelt advice or help seeing the other side of the coin.”


When the county began its search for a new administrator after Interim Acting Administrator Tom Windsor stepped down, Durrah was on the interview board for the first round of candidates. According to Shanor, after completion of the first round, Durrah realized he could do the job so he put his hat in the ring.

Administrative Assistant Nichole Cargnino and “doorkeeper” as Durrah called her, tells of her history of domestic violence, and a life over which she felt she had no control.

“Donnie knew my background. I was timid, not confident, I never felt I had a voice. He gave me my voice and self confidence and made me feel I belonged and had something to offer.

“We shared so many laughs and so many talks where he turned my tears into laughter. He helped me gain control in my present that I never had in my past.”

“He gave so many a voice,” Cargnino said. “I hear his voice and laughter every day.”

Airport Manager and Unorganized Territory Manager Tony Carter said he started with the county about the same time as Durrah became County Administrator.


“I saw a lot of silos,” he explained. “Everyone [department] was in their own world. He [Durrah] let us get tools we needed and we became a cohesive team. Department heads began sharing resources, he brought us into a new world of open communication. Every conversation he had he made positive even if it began as negative. He made us grow together.”

Carter said Durrah never micromanaged. “For his age his leadership skills were impeccable. He wanted to drive us to a better place as a county and he did. His heart was in the county … he was an incredible man.”

“Donnie wanted Oxford County to become a model of vision through teamwork,” said Crockett.

As the only engineer on the payroll, Carter said he feels like he’s “drinking through a fire hose right now” trying to sort through Durrah’s plans so he can continue to implement Durrah’s vision. “He had a very strong vision of where the county should be for the betterment of the county.”

“It’s hard to fathom what we will do ongoing,” said Goyette. “[He] already changed the environment and his legacy will live on…it will be hard to settle for anything less. We are united as a group in fairness, equity and integrity.”

“We’re going to miss him a lot,” Wilson added. “There’s a void there but we have to pick up and move on.”


“The loss of this dear man will be felt for a long time.” said Hill. “But he also left us with every lesson, every tool, every conversation, every memory of the worst talk ending in laughter and a renewed sense of capability.”

“We’re going to all get together next week and drive on,” Carter said, “continuing Donnie’s legacy until the commissioners decide what they want to do.”

“I, along with many others I’m sure, have been forced to think what Donnie would do moving forward,” Crockett mused. “I believe it’s to take a step back and look at our entire organization and truly recognize what we have created under Donnie’s guidance. I see integrity, trust, respect, growth and strength. Oxford County is the vision Donnie saw.”

“While his sudden passing leaves us without him to guide us,” Dillingham concluded, “he did his job so well that we will be able to carry on the mission adequately and efficiently going forward.”

When there is a death of a first responder, OCRCC will send out a “Last Call” radio dispatch to the first responder who has died. They did this for Durrah following the Nov. 5 memorial service.

The closing of the last call sums up what all the employees tried to convey:

County Administrator Donald Durrah may you rest in peace knowing your strength and wisdom will live on … On behalf of Oxford County and the citizens you have served, we thank you for your dedicated service. … Rest easy Donnie, we will take it from here.

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