The longest serving sheriff in Lincoln County's 250-year history died Dec. 21, 2011 at Maine Medical Center in Portland, following a long illness.

William C. Carter, 72, was Lincoln County's 31st sheriff. He served from 1964 until his retirement in 2002 and is believed to be the longest serving Sheriff in Maine history.

Born in Damariscotta March 8, 1939, the son of William C. and Clara (Meservey) Carter, William Carter grew up in Jefferson and graduated from Lincoln Academy in 1958. After a stint in the Navy he began a 40-year career in law enforcement with a job as a patrolman in Damariscotta in 1962.

He was 26 when he won his first election for Sheriff in 1964, becoming the youngest person to hold the office. He went on to win 13 more consecutive elections before retiring after 37 years in office.  Carter's tenure coincided with a period of explosive population growth in Lincoln County and throughout Maine. He is widely credited with developing the modern Lincoln County Sheriff's Office.

Former Knox County Sheriff Daniel Davey said Carter, "really built that department from scratch," recognizing that county law enforcement had to modernize.

Carter's successor, current Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett concurred with Davey's assessment.

"That is pretty much true," Brackett said. "They didn't have uniforms. They didn't have a car. They used their own cars. He used to get calls at his house... He really played a key role in building this agency into the professional law enforcement agency it is today."

Brackett worked for Carter for 10 years, between 1988 and 1998. After Carter, a lifelong Republican, announced his plans to retire 2002, Brackett successfully ran for the office as a Democrat.

Davey spent 11 years working under Carter in the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office before he was first elected to office in Knox County in 1984. Sheriff Davey served 22 years before his retirement in 2007.

"Bill was a pillar," Davey said ... He was a good man to work for. I really enjoyed my time in Lincoln County."

Davey credited Carter's ability to recognize the county's needs, and said Carter's political savvy enabled him to convince the county commissioners and the public to support his efforts.

"When you're dealing with commissioners, you have to convince them of a need and you have to have your facts together," Davey said.

When Carter first took office in January 1965, he was a one-man department, supported by several part-time employees, working out of the basement in the Lincoln County Courthouse with a $38,000 budget. At the time of his retirement, LCSO required a $2.3 million dollar budget and employed 42 full-time and 17 part-time staff members.

"I think he realized the counties were way behind and they needed to catch up with the times," Davey said. "The predictions were Maine was going to change rapidly because of all the changes that were taking place nationwide. Maine was always quiet; Vacationland, you know, and it was beginning to be like the rest of the country.

"Maine people were demanding law enforcement and services that they were getting in other areas so it wasn't difficult finding out what was going on out in other parts of the country and things we needed to do."

In a typewritten "Special Report" recounting his years in office from 1965 to 1985, Carter recalled working out of the basement of the Lincoln County Courthouse.

In 1965, the Lincoln County Jail could accommodate exactly two prisoners at a time. During his first year in office Carter reported booking 165 individuals into his cellblock.

In Carter's early years, his office in Wiscasset relayed all calls directly to his house. Part-time deputies patrolled during the summer months and otherwise as needed.

Carter was known for surrounding himself with "good people," qualified professionals who could do the job. Brackett said Carter's people skills supported his effectiveness as a leader.

"He had the ability, that natural ability; he was likable. He was approachable," Brackett said. "He had a sincerity about him when he was dealing with these issues. If he saw a young sheriff, like Mike Westrum in Sagadahoc, he would take them under his wing."

As a manager Carter, a large man, could be intimidating, but he was a clear and effective communicator, Brackett said. "I remember when I was hired as a new deputy," he said. "He sat me down in his office, just me and him. I was brand new and he said, 'this is how I want things to be and this is what I expect.'"

"He was a big man and he knew what he wanted and he had clear expectations and he was quick to tell you and you knew where you stood," Brackett said. "It was a little old school. He might go up one side of you and down the other, but then he might take you out for coffee."

Although Carter literally and figuratively left big shoes to fill, Brackett said his predecessor could not have made the transition easier.

"He made it very simple," Brackett said. "He worked so hard to ensure that the department was well maintained and that policies and procedures and practices were up to date for the transition. He made it very smooth. His house was in order."

Throughout his career, Carter was noted for innovation, and for adopting new technology and techniques. During his tenure, Carter established the county's first DARE program and pioneered programs in the county jail for drug and alcohol treatment, anger management and others.

Under Carter, Brackett said, in 1977 LCSO was the first Sheriff's office in the state to hire a full-time officer dedicated to juvenile issues.

Carter, Brackett said, was practicing "community policing" years before it became an industry buzzword. "Community policing" refers to the concept of building bonds between officers and the citizens they serve through non-adversarial mutual activities; service on municipal committees, attending community events, coaching sports teams, etc.

"As corny as it might sound, he was a true son of Lincoln County," Brackett said. "He knew everybody. He was connected to the area. He knew a lot of people and that's the way he managed this agency.

Brackett said Carter served as a model for his approach to the job. "Absolutely," Brackett said. "I have really tried to emulate Bill's philosophy about staying in touch with the community. My door is always open. My phone number is in the book for the same reason his was... He told me, 'Todd you're the sheriff and you need to be available.' That philosophy was another strength Bill had."

Carter instituted such programs as Camp Check in 1966, which involved the sheriff or his deputies performing property checks on the many seasonal cottages in Lincoln County, using snowshoes, and later a snowmobile, to get around in the wintertime.

Carter also oversaw the development of crime prevention programs such Project Theft Guard and, in 1975, a Neighborhood Watch program. In 1978, he created a Bicycle Safety program, named the department's first training officer, and began scheduling monthly in-service training programs and instituted mandatory firearms training.

"We went to a lot of schools; photography, crime scene investigations," Davey said. "Sometimes we even went out of state [for training]. Up until that time, that was unheard of. I think Bill realized we had to catch up with the times."

Under Carter's administration the Sheriff's Office grew into a 24-hour patrol service, with a countywide communications center headquartered in Wiscasset.

Current Two Bridges Regional Jail administrator Mark Westrum credited Carter for such innovations as creating community policing standards and getting laptop computers into the county's patrol cars, a development in which Lincoln County led the state.

"[The department] was his first love," Westrum said. "Maybe he didn't understand [technology] completely, but he knew it was important."

Like Carter, Westrum was a young sheriff, taking office in Sagadahoc County in 1993 at the age of 31. Last week, an emotional Westrum credited Carter for advice and support throughout Westrum's career.

"He reached out to me early on," Westrum said.

In 1992, when it appeared Westrum had lost his first bid for election, Carter was among the first people to call him, Westrum said.

"During the campaign when it appeared like I had lost the election, the first call I got the next morning was from Bill," Westrum said. "He said, 'It's only 12 votes. You should ask for a recount,' and through the months that followed, he would check in routinely. I always held a special place in my heart for the guy."

Westrum said he especially appreciated Carter's support during the early years of Westrum's tenure in Sagadahoc County. Carter was a senior sounding board who provided invaluable counsel to the younger man.

"He reined me in quite a few times in my first term; I will never forget it," Westrum said. When the administrator's position at the jail opened up in 2008, Carter urged Westrum to take it.

"I think it was Bill that inspired me," Westrum said. "I never got a bad piece of advice from the guy. I just adored the guy."

"He was a mentor, a friend, someone who always gave good advice. He was an icon in Maine law enforcement," Westrum said. "He was an absolutely amazing man. Through good times and bad times, you would always count on Bill Carter."

Editorial, Lincoln County News, December 28, 2011

Somehow it seems fitting that former Lincoln County Sheriff William C. Carter has left us at this time of the year. Carter's passing truly closes the door on an era in Maine law enforcement.

More recent transplants to Lincoln County might consider uniformed deputies and county owned patrol cars as a matter of course. However there was a time when Sheriff Carter, no doubt, had to go and make the case to the Lincoln County Commissioners that the county should actually buy its own patrol car.

Given the history of rural law enforcement up to that time, it was likely an uphill battle.

By the time Carter left office, he had bridged the gap between the part-time, quasi-private law enforcement services of the past to a modern full-time, high-tech, highly trained professional service.

Thanks to Bill Carter, the agency he handed off to his successor, Todd Brackett, is not likely to be materially different from the agency Brackett will eventually hand off to his successor.

Eras end only so often.

When the late, legendary Damariscotta Police Chief George Hutchings passed away in 2003 locals fondly remembered how Hutchings patrolled the town for years in his personal vehicle, single handedly keeping the peace.

On occasion you can still hear longtime residents mutter about the police budget, saying something along the lines of how, 'when George Hutchings was chief, the budget was so much less and things still got done.'

Those days, however, are long gone and Carter as much as anyone could see them coming to an end.

Carter's greatest gift perhaps was his ability to recognize where Maine was going in the years ahead and then lead the way to the future.

So, sad as it is, it seems fitting that Sheriff Carter has gone to his reward now as we prepare to turn the page on another year.

William C. Carter was a man among men and we'll not see his like again.


Last updated: 12-February-2013