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Former reporter remembered as fighter, passionate environmentalist

By Fran Gonzalez | Feb 26, 2021
Courtesy of: Suzanne Farley Peter Taber at the Common Ground Fair.

Searsport — A former journalist and longtime environmental activist died Feb. 8 after living with lung cancer for nine years.

Peter Taber, 74, was a reporter for the now-defunct Waldo Independent in Belfast. Prior to working at the Independent, Taber also reported for the Bangor Daily News.

In interviewing friends, family and colleagues who knew Taber, several themes surfaced: his passion, independence, curiosity, boundless energy, and love for life.

Toni Mailloux, former editor of the Waldo Independent, worked with Taber for 15 years and said he was “one of those unforgettable characters you meet.”

“He was an excellent reporter, always very curious,” she said. He covered Searsport and Sears Island, the county commissioners' office, and environmental issues.

Taber was different, she said. He was exactly right for the Independent, being so independent-minded himself. He did not care what car he drove or what he wore, often sporting a long braid down his back.

At one point in his life he lived in a garage in the back of someone’s house, Mailloux said. He always had old cars, which he used to tinker on.

In all, he had eight children, she said; two by his first wife, two by his second and four by his third wife. As you might imagine, she said, there were kids always around.

Mailloux said Taber was proud of his father, Robert Taber, who was an investigative reporter for CBS and a published author. While with CBS, the elder Taber accompanied Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their troops in Cuba in the late 1950s when they forced Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista into exile.

Peter Taber was comfortable at the Independent, Mailloux said, until “we sold ourselves” to Courier Publications. Mailloux said she left in 2007 and Taber left soon after. “He didn’t like the corporate structure.”

For 13 years, Belfast City Councilor Mike Hurley wrote a column on local, national and personal issues for the Waldo Independent, where he also knew Taber.

He was a tough reporter “willing to do combat” on environmental issues, he said. “He took no prisoners,” Hurley said, “If you were against him, you knew it. ... he was ready to debate at the drop of a hat.” As a journalist, Hurley added, “he was a crusader. Every story deeply interested him … and he had a real affinity for the common person.”

Glenn Montgomery, a friend and former colleague at the Waldo Independent, said Taber was one of the most unforgettable and unusual characters he had ever known.

In a tribute to Taber, Montgomery wrote, “He was my best friend at the newspaper.”

The two men both started around 1991, and Taber was still there when Montgomery left in 2003. For most of the years they worked together the Independent office was located where Archangel Computer is now, across from the police department.

“Every one of the Independent staff had the standard-issue metal desk and the requisite swivel chair,” he said. “Except for Peter. He had this massive wooden desk, perhaps it had been his father’s… .

Of course, Mongomery added, “Peter didn’t have a swivel chair like the rest of us. He had a barber’s chair, which served him well in all sorts of ways.

“Peter sometimes needed a break; it could be midnight or it could be 1 in the morning. So, he would pull the lever on that big barber’s chair so that it tipped back into a sleeping position, just like a plush recliner in someone’s den,” he said.

“Taber would take a power nap for varying degrees of time, then would awake, perhaps at the urging of Editor Toni Mailloux, to furiously peck away on all the lengthy stories that he had promised for this edition.”

In a tribute to her father, Taber’s daughter Samantha Taber wrote that he was extraordinary, and “the most fun parent,” coming up with spontaneous playground games for hours with inexhaustible energy.

“He never pressured us to succeed academically or otherwise, and he never dragged us on dull 'educational' excursions. To him, life was far too exciting and short for that,” she said.

Samantha said her father would take them on “interesting excursions,” and although he rarely had money for expensive outings, “a trip to a seedy convenience store across town for popsicles, a picnic in a vacant lot, or a hike along abandoned train tracks was always an adventure.”

His son Tristan Taber said his father “cared deeply about the environment, journalism, and the equity of people." That is what inspired him for most of his life, he said.

Peter’s childhood, traveling globally with his father, shaped his perceptions, Tristan said. “He saw genocide when still a small child. … He wanted to make sure people had equitable access to opportunities.”

Tristan said his father “inspired us to value not just education but true curiosity in things.” In his later years, he said, his father discovered Wikipedia, and would often go down rabbit holes learning about quantum physics and the nature of particles.

“He welcomed the time that he had as a gift,” Tristan said, “and cared a great deal.” He described his father as an “intellectual powerhouse” for his continuous love of learning, which was also transferred to other people. "And that has carried over to all of us as well,” Tristan said.

Suzanne Farley said she and Taber had been partners for 13 years and were married for seven of them. The couple lived in Searsport and Farley said what brought the two together was their mutual interest in bird watching, kayaking, early childhood education and social justice.

“He had a memory like no other and could pull out facts to make a point,” she said. “He had a real gift for language and could articulate very clearly.”

Farley said Taber decided to go to college in Maine because he wanted to learn to ski, though his parents had different plans for him. He had attended the Collegiate School on the Upper West Side in New York City, a distinguished prep school. In the end, Taber won out, attending University of Maine in Orono.

“His passing leaves a deep emptiness,” Farley wrote in a post on Facebook.

A July gathering is tentatively planned to celebrate Taber’s life, she said, but more information will be forthcoming. People wishing to honor Taber can make a donation in his name to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an animal sanctuary or a no-kill animal shelter.

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