Kenneth Cianchette, one of the founders of Cianbro Corp., addresses hundreds of employees during a celebration of 60 years in business in September 2009 as Senior Vice President Mac Cianchetts and Ival "Bud" Cianchette look on. Credit: Christopher Cousins / BDN

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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.

Some things are intensely personal, yet universal. Like the loss of a loved one.

Pretty much everyone has been there. At a high level, you know what it feels like. But fewer know how any particular loss feels. The stories, the relationships, the individual impact made by the person who passed.

My family is going through it. Last week, we lost my grandfather. No matter who you are, 98 years is a phenomenal run.

Kenneth Lyle Cianchette was a remarkable man. Several stories have already been shared; the time will come to share more.

He loved poetry. Even late into his 90s, you could find him in the evenings reciting “Gunga Din” and “Sam McGee” from memory. He surprised me when he was 97, belting out a tune I had never heard before: “Huggin’ and Chalkin’.”

He was a character.  

I learned lessons about government from him as well. He served in countless local and statewide offices, always focused on making things better. The wisdom he earned was imparted indirectly through storytelling. Two particular ones stand out.

The first took place here in Maine. My grandfather was appointed by Gov. Jim Longley to serve as one of the earliest commissioners of the Land Use Regulatory Commission, or LURC.

Shortly after taking his seat, he was approached by an older gentleman. This man was an immigrant to the United States who had spent his life as a barber in Portland. He had saved up a little bit of money, sold his Portland-area home and built himself a small camp on Unity Pond.

This was pretty much everything the retiree had. It was the culmination of his life’s work. He planted a windbreak of trees on the north side of the camp. His goal was to spend the rest of his life there. A simple plan.

He was visited by someone from Augusta. They told him that the camp was illegal and ordered him to rip down the retirement home he had just built. They left him an official-looking document giving him a deadline to restore the property to its natural state. Worse still? They told him to cut down all the pine trees.

The barber was particularly distraught over that final demand. After all, he had planted spruce, not pine.

The way the story went, Ken Cianchette went down to Augusta to get to the bottom of things. It sounded like bureaucracy run amok. It turns out the camp had violated one single rule; he didn’t apply for a permit. Everything else about it was perfectly fine. Making him rip it down was foolish.

That gentleman was able to keep his camp. And he didn’t need to cut down the spruce trees.

The second story was down in Florida. The Florida Keys are a remarkable place. My grandparents made Key Colony Beach their winter home in the 1980s. He enjoyed birds, and there was an endangered species of burrowing owl native to the area. My grandfather would build habitats for them as a hobby.

He liked building things. Meanwhile, there were also several nesting birds faced with habitat loss in the area. He wanted to put large platforms up on top of poles to provide a place for them as well. The local government told him he could not do so; ordinances prohibited it.

He thought that was a foolish answer. So he built them anyway. When they came to scold him and order them taken down, he ran an Italian flag up the pole. He told them it was an Italian flagpole design and the ordinances permitted flagpoles. Nothing in the ordinance forbade a flagpole from having a 16 square foot platform as the finial.  

Technically, he was right. The bird nests that appeared thereafter were just a happy accident.

The wisdom you gain in 98 years is immense. That is particularly true when you live a life as full as Kenneth Cianchette. He taught me that government rules can be shortsighted or foolish and deserve to be dealt with accordingly. It is a good lesson to keep in mind.  

Rest in peace, Papa. And thank you.

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Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.