Family and friends of Newcastle businessman Louis Doe remember him for his contributions to the business community, including as a co-founder of his namesake business and of Damariscotta Bank & Trust, but also for his civic-mindedness and quiet generosity.
Doe, the founder of Louis Doe Home Center in Newcastle, passed away May 1 at the age of 90.
Born on Feb. 9, 1927 to Arthur and Estella Doe, Louis Doe made many contributions to the local area over the years, but was best known for starting the business bearing his name – locals often call it Louis Doe’s or just Doe’s – with the late Judy Doe, his wife of almost 40 years. The couple had five children: Ellen McFarland, Mark Doe, Jenny Mitkus, Lisa Woodrow, and the late Phillip Bickford Jr.
Except for some time when he lived in Connecticut installing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, Doe always lived in Newcastle. He was born in Sheepscott and lived on The King’s Highway before building a home on Doe Run Road, off Lewis Hill Road.
“When they built the house, there wasn’t even a question of where they were going to live,” McFarland said. “It was always going to be Newcastle.”
Doe liked to travel, his children said. He and Judy visited Spain and Portugal, and trade shows allowed him to visit different landmarks across the country, including the Hoover Dam in Nevada.
During trips, it wasn’t uncommon for him to remark on the cost of running different businesses.
“We were standing in a casino in Las Vegas and he just looked up at the ceiling and said, ‘How much do you think it would cost to run this place for an hour?’” Mark Doe said. “And he would figure it out too, and it was usually pretty close.”
That business sense helped the Louis Doe Home Center survive during leaner years, according to McFarland.
“He knew exactly what it needed to survive, down to a matter of cents,” McFarland said. “He could tell you the price of everything, and he could also find a use for everything. Little knick-knacks that we might throw out, he would save them and find a new use for them. He understood the value.”
In their partnership, both in business and marriage, Louis was typically the one to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision, while Judy would typically rely on faith and feelings, McFarland said.
“Of the two of them, Mom was a bit more reactive,” Mitkus said. “Dad was always good-natured. Very rarely did he lose his temper.”
Louis also had a good sense of humor and liked to “needle” people, his children said. In one instance, when a discussion about the store was brought into the kitchen at home, Louis was able to make Judy laugh in the middle of an argument.
“Mom was going on and on about something, and Dad was just sitting in the chair just holding the newspaper over his face,” McFarland said. “At one point she reached over and ripped the paper down so she could see him, and he just had this huge grin on his face.”
“Mom just started laughing. She couldn’t help it,” McFarland said.
The Does poured most of their time and energy into the store and were willing to try almost anything. During various spans of time, the store carried everything from cabinets and furniture to carpeting, flooring, and wallpaper.
When they were growing up, each of the children worked at the store for a period of time. In addition to learning the value of hard work, they also learned the importance of good customer service.
“The customer was always first with them,” Mitkus said. “We were taught if a customer asked where something was, you never pointed to it, you walked them to it.”
Doe believed in the importance of supporting fellow local business owners. In the event the store did not carry something a customer was looking for, he would call competitors in the area to see if they could help.
In 1973, Doe and several fellow business owners, including Clayton Howard, Norman Hunt, and Sam Roberts, founded Damariscotta Bank & Trust in an effort to support local businesses and homeowners. Louis served on the board of directors for many years, and was an honorary director at the time of his passing.
“Louis was mild-mannered, but very solid in his convictions,” said Chester Rice, who now chairs the bank’s board. “He was a loyal member of the board and a very good friend.”
“He was determined to do right, and he was just an all-around great guy,” Rice said.
Beyond his business relationships, Doe contributed to the community as an active participant in town meetings and a longtime member of the Damariscotta-Newcastle Lions Club.
He also helped members of the community through quieter means. During holiday dinners, he would occasionally leave the celebration to go check on someone’s heating fuel or make sure they had food.
“We’ve been hearing stories of them helping people, but it wasn’t something they broadcast,” Mitkus said.
“Dad was all about flying under the radar,” Mark Doe said. “He was definitely more behind the scenes.”
Despite Doe’s modesty, his actions received recognition. In April 2014, Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett presented Louis Doe Home Center with the agency’s Outstanding Community Service Award for the business’s support of the community and the residents of Lincoln County.
“Your business has demonstrated a willingness to contribute not only physical resources, but more importantly, the human component of caring that truly reflects your commitment to our community, as well as the public safety mission of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office,” Brackett said during the awards ceremony.
The award was renamed the Judy Doe Memorial Community Service Award in honor of Louis’ wife, who passed away the previous year. When Brackett was a deputy, he said, Louis and Judy would call if there was anyone in the store who needed assistance.
“They both had a very community-oriented focus,” Brackett said. “There were so many things they did that just went under the radar. They didn’t call attention to it; they just did it because that’s what civic-minded people do.”
Louis and Judy Doe’s affinity for helping their community is also reflected in their children, Brackett said. During his time as Damariscotta’s police chief, he has worked with Mitkus, a former Damariscotta police officer, and Mark Doe, a former sheriff’s deputy, and he said both reflect the traits of their parents.
Mark Doe, McFarland, and Mitkus remain active in the goings-on of the community in numerous ways, both in town government (all three live in Newcastle) and with community organizations.
Throughout his lifetime, Louis Doe dealt with a number of health problems, including heart attacks and a quadruple bypass. Regardless, he never fully retired from working at the home center. Up until earlier this year, he could be found holding court in the store, occasionally while eating vanilla Round Top Ice Cream.
“He had a number of regulars. They were ‘his’ customers,” Mark said. “All this past week, his customers have been coming into the store, not to buy things, but to tell us how much he meant to them.”
Louis would impart advice and “pearls of wisdom” on the visitors, his children said, including one favorite of McFarland’s: “My cow is dead; I don’t need your bull.”
During both the visitation and memorial service, Louis’ children heard stories about their father’s life before he had kids, including antics and various nicknames. They also learned just how many people Louis impacted in his lifetime.
“One really common sentiment we’ve heard over the past week is how much his generation and the generation before him accomplished,” McFarland said. “His generation is going quickly, and we need to keep up the work that they did.”
“In the services you could see how many people he touched, and if I can accomplish even half of that, I would feel that I’m doing OK. He left huge shoes to fill,” Mitkus said.