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Subject: John Cole, Conservationist and Maine Times Co-Founder

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Date Posted: January 10, 2003 5:12:41 EDT

John Cole, an author, conservationist and co-founder of Maine Times, a spirited weekly newspaper that championed the environment and doggedly kept tabs on state and local government, died of cancer on Wednesday at his home in Brunswick, Me. He was 79.

Maine Times, which Mr. Cole founded with Peter Cox in 1968, was an alternative weekly in a state not known for such upstart journalism. It veered away from the day-to-day routine, choosing instead the role of gadfly on issues that others had largely ignored, like the state's juvenile detention system.

Mr. Cole engaged in a celebrated battle with the state's first independent governor, Jim Longley, constantly critiquing his performance.

"'Augusta has become like a banana republic,' that's the kind of stuff that John would print," Mr. Cox said.

Mr. Cole was perhaps best known as an environmental crusader. When officials wanted to open an oil refinery in Trenton, Me., a stone's throw from the entrance to Acadia National Park, Mr. Cole sent a reporter to a New Jersey refinery to describe its pollutant effects. He lobbied against deforestation and hunting, and sought to protect every inch of the state, from the rocky seashore to the roaring Allagash River.

John C. Burke, a former assistant managing editor and city editor at The Boston Globe, who edited a Sunday column that Mr. Cole wrote for his paper, said Mr. Cole knew every cove and inlet of Maine's coastline, countless islands and small peninsulas that on a map look like hundreds of tiny fingers jutting into the ocean. Mr. Cole could make a reader feel like he was there, Mr. Burke said.

Mr. Cole was born Feb. 26, 1923, and grew up on Long Island, where he worked as a commercial fisherman and was friendly with many resident artists, among them Jackson Pollock. Mr. Cole would often lament that, while low on money, he sold one of Mr. Pollock's paintings before they fetched millions of dollars, Mr. Cox said.

Mr. Cole served in World War II before moving to Maine in the 1950's. Before founding Maine Times, he was the editor of three local daily papers: The Kennebunk Star, Brunswick Record, and Bath/Brunswick Times-Record.

After selling his share of Maine Times to Mr. Cox in the mid-1970's, he was a frequent contributor to national magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and Field & Stream. Mr. Cox sold Maine Times in 1985; in 1999, with dwindling subscribers and advertisers, it ceased publication.

Mr. Cole also wrote books, including "Striper," about the effects of pollution and commercial fishing on striped bass and about his days as a fisherman. Pat Kelleher, the New England regional executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association, of which Mr. Cole was a member, said that "Striper," published in 1978 and now out of print, inspired him to leave commercial fishing and become a conservationist. He then became friendly with Mr. Cole, and they often fished for striped bass together.

Mr. Cole is survived by his wife, Jean; a son and a daughter from a previous marriage and four stepchildren.

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