EASTPORT — Friends and family in this seaside community mourned the passing of a Washington County media icon last week. Winifred French, 76, editor and publisher of the Quoddy Tides, died Friday after a long illness.
French was described as an independent woman and thinker who did things because of their overall importance and not because of what others thought.
In a letter to the editor, published Friday in the Quoddy Tides, Tom Riordan of Tallahassee, Fla. wrote, “In November of 1968, the first issue of the Quoddy Tides rolled off the presses. An amazing dream by a woman with absolutely no newspaper experience had become a reality.”
Riordan said he had interviewed French in 1987 for an article in a newspaper trade magazine. He said he treasured that visit and never forgot “the herculean task that Winifred had mapped out for herself and then completed.”
In 1979, French was honored by her peers when she was named Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press Association.
Always filled with the latest local news, the biweekly newspaper contained Cobscook Bay stories from years past to current community news.
Eastport City Manager Mary Follis said she remembered when French began the Quoddy Tides. “I was in college in Orono, and I remember that when it was time for the Quoddy Tides, I’d be right down there at the mailbox waiting for it, and I would devour the news of home,” she said. “It was nice news, and it was folksy.”
Eastport City Councilor Ruth McInnis said the community welcomed the upbeat news stories French published. “She wouldn’t hurt anybody. She was very thoughtful about other people, and that was how the paper was. Anything that was controversial was either not treated at all or was treated with kid gloves,” she said.
Longtime friend John Pike Grady of Eastport said French was a great woman with a sensitive side who had many friends in the community.
“They had an extraordinary outpouring despite the bad weather today,” he said after the publisher’s funeral Monday. “She was a very quiet, very private person, but she had many varied interests. She loved gardening and cooking and was bloody good at both.”
Robbinston resident Tessa Ftorek said she met French years ago when she attended school with French’s daughter Ann. She said French and two other women organized a Girl Scout troop in the area.
“She was a wonderful role model in her quiet way. I can remember the days when 30 girls would come in after school, and things would get kind of wild. Mrs. French never ever raised her voice. She would just raise her hand, and the room instantly was quiet. Her presence was amazing,” Ftorek said.
In 1976, French helped organize the Quoddy Tides Foundation to encourage marine research. Serena Wilson, who worked as a librarian for the foundation, described French as ” a very lovely person.” Those words were often used Monday to describe French. “She was the quietest person, and nothing ruffled her. … This is a great loss to Eastport,” Wilson said.
Joyce Weber, who operates a business in Eastport, said she and French were members of the Literary Round Table. “Primarily, I knew her through that club, and I really admired her. She came to the meeting with articles or poetry or stories that were of very fine quality. She obviously spent a lot of time reading and looking for things of literary merit. I don’t think she did it because she belonged to the Round Table. She did it because it was part of her life,” Weber said.
French was active in organizations including the Appalachian Trail Club of Washington, D.C., and the Abanaki Girl Scout Council board of directors.