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CHERRYFIELD – At 78, Bill Conway isn’t slowing and showing any wear in his decades-long pursuit of peace. Rather, he is starting to pick up speed.
You can find him along the bridge across the Narraguagus River four hours a day, when drivers are heading to work. He carries a sign, “Stop War Now.”
Many honk and wave in support. Some drivers stop for a talk about his solitary protest.
Conway has been going to protest there for about a month, whatever the weather. He can’t say how many more weeks or months he will continue his solo peace vigil.
“It all depends on what happens in Iraq,” he said.
Conway wishes more people in western Washington County would get up and do something, too, or at least sit together in friendly discussion of the world’s issues of war and peace.
Since last November, Conway has opened his barn on Park Street to show free documentary films every few weeks in hopes of spurring informal community discussions.
His latest initiative, though, is a series of facilitated discussions that start Wednesday, Nov. 1, in the meeting room of the Washington Hancock Community Agency in Milbridge. Set for 7 p.m., the first meeting will focus on the media’s role in the Iraq war.
His fliers ask people to “learn, affirm, attend, participate.”
“I had a woman who did not want me to put my flier in her store,” he said. “She said, ‘It’s political.’ Well, of course it’s political. Everything is political, isn’t it?”
Conway senses there is public sentiment for the activities he is promoting, but he has yet to draw a reasonable crowd to his films or talks. He is still hoping for that.
“People have busy lives,” he said. “I can appreciate that. But I just wish a few of them would take some time for discussion of the issues, because we need it.
“People no longer get together and plan social change work, and they don’t care for meetings,” he said. “Everyone is into the Internet, and they tend to communicate that way.”
Not Conway. He and his wife, who run the Rickers House bed and breakfast, once spent about five months trying to foster dialogue by e-mail. That was long enough. Conway is happy to spread his message using his typewriter and fax machine.
An Alabama native who never lost his Southern accent, Conway moved to Cherryfield 20 years ago. He retired after working 30 years mostly for the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C.
Conway served in the U.S. Army for two years between World War II and the Korean War. He also was in the National Guard for seven years in two states, Tennessee and California.
While in Washington, he helped organize the Friends for Creative Conflict Resolution, which for seven years trained others throughout the country to provide workshops in prisons and for the general public.
He became a Quaker in the 1960s.
“I have had strong feelings against war for years,” he said. “I was trying to stop the war in Vietnam. I felt it was wrong to be in Vietnam.”
Now Conway feels the same about Iraq.
Several veterans have stopped while he has been on the bridge. Three showed support for his protest, he said. Another, who recently returned from serving in Iraq, approached him “upset and angry.”
“He was going to do all the talking, but slowly we had a nice conversation,” Conway said. “We shook hands and off he went. I wish I could talk to him more.”
During the first days of his vigil, a motorist pulled over and ran to see him.
“I expected that one to be upset, but he pushed a $20 bill at me,” he said. “I told him I didn’t need or want the money. He told me to buy more signs, then turned around and went down the road.”
To learn more about Bill Conway’s plans for public films and discussions, call him at 546-2910.