Good as Gould

It was a fellow Mainer - Monitor Editor Erwin Canham - who first spotted the potential of a young newspaperman who'd sent in a column "on spec." Canham invited John Gould to write weekly for the Monitor. That was more than 60 years ago.

We are sad about Mr. Gould's passing, and grateful he stayed as long as he did. What was it that made him so welcome in our readers' homes?

Gould insisted that he did not write a column. He wrote essays, a word he used with precision - as he used every word. Essays are written in service to an idea. He did not write about himself, though his life was reflected in his stories. He was not the hero of his tales. Instead he shone the spotlight on a wide cast of characters - boyhood friends, retired sea captains, Civil War soldiers, shopkeepers, imposing aunts, even Eleanor Roosevelt, L.L. Bean, and a nameless Pullman porter. The porter threw baseballs to 10-year-old Gould and his friends from a moving train as it passed through town; one baseball in particular was autographed by the Red Sox, including a promising left-hander named George Herman Ruth. (Gould's editor called him to make sure that tale was true. Yes, it was.)

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Gould drew on his remarkable memory, broad life experience, and storytelling prowess to regale readers about lost treasure, the battle of Gettysburg, a birthday party at the "poor farm," and a three-tined fork that disappeared (and, much later, reappeared). They were good stories, to be sure, but they were also essays about how greed fails, how a noble cause ennobles its followers, the beauty of compassion, and, almost always, how profoundly amusing humans are.

Gould's essays were the literary equivalent of a roller-coaster ride, complete with loop-de-loops. But the reader was always placed gently back on earth at the end, unruffled.

Which brings us back to the secret of Gould's longevity. He was modest and generous. He never forgot that his readers were his guests. He greeted them, sat them down, made sure they were comfortable, and then entertained, enlightened, and educated them. He respected his readers and sought to bless them.

He once confided to us that he and his "first" wife, Dorothy, were spending $100 a month in postage to write back to readers who'd managed to discover their address.

In short, John loved his readers. And, not surprisingly, his readers returned the favor.

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