NEW GLOUCESTER - Peter Woodman Wills died on April 1, 2020. He was 89.
Pete Wills was a man of New Gloucester, a town legend, the living legacy of one of the village’s founding families who had traveled up the Royal River on a raft in the mid-1700s and never left. Pete was born in New Gloucester, the son of James Roy Wills and Ruth Rideout Wills, on February 26, 1931, and except for a stint in the Navy after he graduated from high school, he never left either. Like his ancestors, he was independent and resourceful from the start. When his father wouldn’t take him to Bradbury Mountain, Pete made the 20-mile round-trip on his bike. He was 9.
As a student at Lower Corner School he was in charge of starting the wood fires, a job that followed him when he went to New Gloucester High School. Pete was known for his friendly manner, wealth of knowledge and love of talking — and ever-present toothpick, a habit he picked up after he gave up smoking a corncob pipe. Dressed in green dickies and red suspenders, a pork pie hat and red handkerchief in his pocket tucked in beside a Louis L’Amour western, Pete was a Cole Farms counter regular. You’d find him there most days for breakfast and many nights for dinner, telling stories.
Every Friday he would head to Kimball’s & Dube’s Garage in Gray with a bag of muffins for the crew. Garages and engines and especially tractors brought Pete joy his whole life. At age 6 he took himself down the hill to the Oliver Store, where he sorted bolts. By the time he was 12, he had a job there putting together implements. He got to drive tractors for pay on the Brookings and Chandler farms, where he also hayed and gardened, another lifelong love. He bought a Model A with his earnings and drove it 100 yards to school every day.
Eventually he became a truck driver, first delivering to A&P stores and becoming a proud Teamster. Later he worked for Holmes and ABF Freight Distribution.He married his beloved Corinne “Coky” Marston on March 31, 1956, in the First Congregational Church of New Gloucester, which his family had helped found 200 years earlier. Together they raised three independent and resourceful daughters. In the 1960s and 70s, Pete served as a volunteer fireman and town selectman. The joke was that he was the mayor of Lower Gloucester and his friend, Bill Morrison was the mayor of Upper Gloucester.
In 1974, Pete served on the bicentennial committee for the town’s 200th anniversary, helping to plan a weekend full of celebratory events. He served as a master of Cumberland Lodge No. 12 and president of the New Gloucester High School Alumni Association. He was a member of numerous other organizations: Teamsters Union Local 340, Maine Antique Tractor Association, Sabbathday Lake Grange, Golden Sheaf Chapter of Eastern Star, Amvets Post 6, and the Royal River Riders Snowmobile Club. In 1971 Pete got his first camper and took the family camping with friends. In retirement he and Coky drove their camper around the U.S., making it as far as Alaska. The highlight of every fall was camping at Fryeburg Fair.
Pete also enjoyed his camp in Eustis, where he would snowmobile with his grandsons and friends. Retirement didn’t mean slowing down. In 2005, when the family camp he had built on Sabbathday Lake in 1966 burned down, Pete, who was then in his 70s, said, “I built the first one, I am going to build the second.” He did, of course. Well into his 80s, he cut and split 10 cord of tree-length wood every year, much of it harvested from his own wood lots, to feed his wood furnace. In his final years he spent time with family, tended his garden and sought out small furry creatures. Pete adopted the neighbor's cat, Mr. P., and would feed a friendly chipmunk on the back step every night.
He always looked for his daughter Lori’s pets when he went to her house for dinner after his wife died.
Pete was preceded in death by his wife, Coky. He leaves his daughters: Nona Wills, Lori Fowler and husband Kevyn, and Kris Wills and wife Sasha Nyary. He is also survived by his grandsons, Duncan and wife Kelly, and Ethan and fiancée ’Ishah, and his step-granddaughter Aubrey and her partner, Tim. Pete also leaves step-grandchildren Mary, Alexander and Lily, step-great-grandchildren Raphael and Lyko, and exchange-student daughter, Sonja Koski Holappa from Finland.
A celebration of Pete’s life will be held at a date to be determined.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Amvets Lunn-Hunnewell Post 6 P. O. Box 301, New Gloucester, Maine 04260 or the New Gloucester Historical Society, P. O. Box 531
New Gloucester, ME 04260
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