Peter R. D'Errico stands outside his namesake passenger terminal after the naming ceremony at Bangor International Airport, March 16, 2016. D'Errico died at his Bangor home on Wednesday. He was 86, according to his obituary. Credit: Micky Bedell

Peter R. D’Errico, the longtime Bangor International Airport director who shepherded the fledgling airport to commercial success in the wake of the Dow Air Force Base closure, died at his Bangor home on Wednesday. He was 87, according to his obituary.

In addition to his family, the former Bangor city councilor, city employee and Air Force veteran leaves behind a legacy that includes in the airport’s domestic passenger terminal that was named for him in 2016.

“He really helped build our reputation as a diversion airport for transatlantic flights,” airport director Tony Caruso said Saturday. “He was a true gentleman. He had a special brand of influence. I’ve never heard anybody say anything negative about Peter.”

He was born in 1931 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to John and Dina D’Errico, according to his obituary. A standout football player and ROTC student, D’Errico received undergraduate and graduate degrees in geology from New York University, and went on to work as a geologist in that city.

In 1955, he became second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, and following a brief period of training in Texas, he came to Maine where he was stationed at the Dow Air Force Base. That’s where he spent four years in active duty as a KC-97 tanker navigator for the Strategic Air Command, before joining the Maine Air National Guard for 26 years and making Bangor his home.

His military connections made him a good fit to help redevelop the Dow Air Force Base when it closed in 1968 — 50 years ago this month — sending Bangor into a tailspin from the loss of population and jobs. By that time, D’Errico had spent eight years working for the city’s economic development office.

In 1970, he became the first and longest serving director of what is now the Bangor International Airport — a job he kept for two decades.

In his 20 years leading the airport, D’Errico oversaw the transformation of old military hangars into new terminals for both domestic and international commercial flights; brought as many of 50 businesses and more than 2,000 jobs to the campus; and built a strong relationship with the Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing, which is based in the airport and helped make some of the costs of the redevelopment possible in the early days, according to BDN archives and interviews.

“Peter turned things around, bringing all those charter airlines into Bangor,” recalled Rodney McKay, a former director of economic development for the city. McKay said he felt mentored by D’Errico when they worked together in an attic office of the old City Hall in the 1960s.

“Early on, he recognized the strategic role that Bangor could serve because we’re on the ‘great circle route’: transatlantic flights literally pass over our area,” Caruso said.

And for all the broad scope of his vision, D’Errico ran his airport with a personal touch and with a big sense of humor that made him beloved among his employees.

McKay said he can’t remember getting off a plane without his friend greeting him at the gate — was he checking the passenger logs? — and during a snowstorm, D’Errico would be out on the tarmac, handing out coffee and doughnuts to his workers, he said.

“He really made the place hum,” McKay said. “I’ve never known anyone like him.”

After 20 years with Bangor International Airport, D’Errico wanted a new challenge, and he left Maine in 1990 to help re-develop another closed Air Force base in California.

But he came back to Bangor in 1995, returning to work for the city in both the economic development department and as a special assistant to the airport director, according to BDN reports and his obituary.

In 2003, voters elected D’Errico to the Bangor City Council, where he held his seat until 2009. He also served a brief term on the council from 1969 to 1970.

Over the course of life, he earned numerous awards for his civic, municipal and military service, including the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Chamber of Commerce Paul Bunyan Award, his obituary says. Last year, BIA saw a record-breaking half-million customers come through its terminals — an achievement built on D’Errico’s founding legacy, Caruso said.

On Saturday, Caruso repeated what he said during the 2016 ceremony that permanently emblazoned D’Errico’s name over the entrance of the Bangor International Airport’s passenger terminal: “A lot of us consider him the father of the airport.”

When D’Errico heard that two years ago, he remarked, “I’m a lucky guy in so many respects.”

A private celebration of his life has been scheduled for his family. On Monday, his entombment with full military honors will be held at 2 p.m. at the Garden Mausoleum at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Bangor, according to his obituary.

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.