Former state Rep. Henry Joy is pictured outside the Maine State House in Augusta on Jan. 5, 2005. He died last month in Houlton. Credit: Denise Farwell / BDN

Former state Rep. Henry Joy, who was known in Maine politics for quixotic quests including several efforts to break Maine into two states, died last week at 89.

The Republican from Crystal in southern Aroostook County served 16 years in Augusta and became well-known for three proposals contemplating northern Maine’s secession. While they were quixotic, they came from serious frustrations with regional economic inequities.

Joy’s first bill on the subject in 1997 propelled him to a gubernatorial run the next year. His last one more than a decade later grabbed headlines by proposing to leave the northern half of the state as Maine while the southern regions got a sneering moniker of “northern Massachusetts.”

“Nobody ever really knew whether it was tongue in cheek or how serious he was about it,” said Bob Emrich, a Plymouth pastor and evangelical leader who met Joy when he worked for Maine Senate Republicans in the 1990s. “But he really thought it was a good idea.”

Joy died at a Houlton nursing home on March 29, according to his Bangor Daily News obituary. He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Mary, their four children and several grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was born in Macwahoc in 1933 to parents who had 13 children.

Joy served in the Air Force and spent his career mostly as an educator, retiring from teaching in 1992. That year, he replaced the local state representative on the ballot after the incumbent fell ill with cancer. In Augusta, he often thrust himself into unconventional positions.

He ran for governor in 1998 and was initially seen as a contender for the Republican nomination. The ardent social conservative served on the board of the evangelical Christian Civic League of Maine and publicly pushed for an audit of its finances that April, clashing with leadership at a sensitive time for his campaign.

“Is this point really worth risking what might have been a ‘sure thing’ nomination?” BDN political editor A.J. Higgins wondered in a column just afterward.

Former U.S. Rep. James B. Longley Jr., the son of the late Gov. James Longley, won the nomination with 66 percent of votes over Joy and another candidate. Longley was trounced in the general election by then-Gov. Angus King, an independent who also drew weak Democratic opposition that year and now serves in the U.S. Senate.

Joy initially served four terms in Augusta. The 1997 bill on secession would have stopped all construction or development in southern Maine for two years or until a plan to improve economic equity between the regions was adopted. Lawmakers turned it into a study.

He was returned to the State House in 2002 for three more terms. Back in Augusta, he was among the harsh critics of Michael Heath, the civic league’s leader, after Heath sent an email newsletter seeking tips that he could use to out lawmakers who were gay or lesbian. Joy began a legislative prayer caucus that still exists today, Emrich said.

Joy’s last term in the Legislature ended in 2010. That year, he revived his secession bill with the “northern Massachusetts” moniker, which he said in a 2015 interview came as an offhand response when someone asked him what he would call the other state.

“That raised a lot of ire at me,” Joy laughed then.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...