Veteran reporter Mal Leary, pictured in 2021, has died at age 72 Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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For many years, if you were a Maine journalist who had a question about freedom of information, you called Mal Leary. And he answered.

That was who Mal was: He had a wealth of information, a willingness to share it, and the skill to do so in a way that enlightened the public and held public officials accountable. He more than earned his unofficial title as the dean of Maine’s press corps.

Leary’s straightforward and sometimes gruff demeanor belied his quiet kindness. He was a tireless champion of the public’s right to know. He was a gracious source of advice for journalists just learning the ropes.

The former Maine Public State House bureau chief died this weekend at 72, having left an indelible mark on Augusta and the entire state. Just look at the response from Maine leaders.  

“For nearly fifty years, the so-called Dean of the State House press corps utilized his unparalleled grasp of policy, procedure, and personalities to inform and help Maine people understand what was happening in Augusta and Washington, D.C.,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement on Sunday. “Mal earned the respect and admiration of readers, listeners, fellow journalists, and politicians of all stripes for his tough but fair questions, his balanced reporting, and his unrivaled institutional knowledge.”

Mills also called Leary “just a good person who cared about people and who loved his state” and said the state has lost “a giant of journalism and a dear friend.”

Sen. Susan Collins said Leary “kept the people of Maine informed and helped them to be engaged citizens.”


“We sat together for countless interviews over the years, covering many subjects. His questions were tough but always fair,” Collins said in her Sunday statement. “His preparation was thorough, demonstrating an unparalleled understanding of the issues. His reporting was accurate and balanced.”


Both Mills and Collins also offered condolences to Leary’s family. Collins told Maine Public that she “learned so much from Mal,” to the point that she considered interviewing him rather than him interviewing her.

“Mal Leary was a reporter’s reporter: tough, honest, and fair,” Sen. Angus King said on Twitter on Sunday morning. “He asked important questions — often difficult ones — for the public’s right to know. Maine has lost a great journalist; I’ve lost a friend.”

Another of Maine’s great journalists, Don Carrigan of News Center Maine, spent years working with Leary during political debates, election coverage and other events and projects.

“Mal knew just about every person and every issue involving state government and usually knew the details and implications better than the politicians. He did his homework, knew the ins and outs of how the Legislature worked better than anyone and was respected by all sides as a fair and thorough reporter,” Carrigan said. “He was a model for the kind of reporter we all strive to be.”

We can’t emphasize enough that Leary did not just provide information to the public — he fought for their access to it. He was a driving force in the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition and in 2015 was named president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

As a perfect example of his powerful advocacy, consider the way he objected to a task force’s proposal to digitize court records without full online access for the public on par with lawyers. Leary was a member of that judicial transparency and privacy task force and authored a blistering dissent to that proposal.

“A public record is a public record is a public record,” Leary said around that time, as reported by the Associated Press.

We could spend hours scouring old broadcasts, reporting and other comments and have a hard time finding a sentence that better encapsulated him as a journalist. That was Mal Leary — straightforward and bitingly accurate.

As a guest on Maine Public’s Maine Calling program, Leary had recalled explaining to then-Gov. Angus King why a proposal to expand the scope of Maine’s freedom of access law was needed. And in a story over the weekend, BDN political editor Michael Shepherd reminded us how Leary was one of the few reporters who could get regular engagement from former Gov. Paul LePage.

Governors trusted him. Senators learned from him. And most importantly, the public relied on him to keep them informed. Year after year, he delivered on that important responsibility.

The people of Maine will miss him.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...