ELLSWORTH — Terry Carlisle’s not shy about her pride in her hometown and its weekly newspaper.
For years, her car bore an Ellsworth “Townie” sticker affixed to the rear window and “EA NEWS” vanity plates.
The Ellsworth American’s longtime general manager grew up on the Surry Road and now resides across town on Graham Lake. She’ll be spending more time there as she plans to retire as general manager June 28.
Kathy Cook, the company’s accounting manager, will succeed Carlisle as general manager.
It will be a big change for Carlisle, who has been general manager for 19 years and with the company since 1978.
“It’s just been the most fun way to spend 41 years,” she said.
Carlisle, 64, says she’ll miss the people and the problem solving that comes with managing a complicated business.
“Somebody once sent me a card that said ‘The view never changes unless you’re the lead dog.’ It beats being in the cheap seats.”
Five years after her 1973 graduation from Ellsworth High School, Carlisle was working as day shift hostess at the Holiday Inn on High Street. James Russell Wiggins, former owner and publisher of The Ellsworth American, and Hale Joy, the paper’s editor, were lunchtime regulars.
Wiggins needed a secretary.
“The interview consisted of him asking me if I could type and I said I could,” Carlisle recalled.
Working for the worldly Wiggins, a former managing editor of The Washington Post and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was a revelation.
“I could call Ben Bradlee [former executive editor of The Post] or Walter Cronkite and I could get them on the phone like that,” Carlisle said, snapping her fingers.
She was working in accounting when Alan Baker became general manager in 1986. He would eventually buy the paper from Wiggins in 1991.
Baker’s desk was in the accounting department and they’d chat after hours as Carlisle killed time before evening business classes.
“Within weeks, Terry was peppering me with questions: Why wasn’t this Realtor advertising with us? What about that restaurant, or the new shop down in Blue Hill? Her commercial instincts and knowledge of our market were obvious,” Baker said.
He suggested she go into sales.
“She finally agreed and, in two weeks, was the star of our sales team,” he says.
Carlisle was promoted to advertising manager in 1988. During her tenure, the newspaper’s revenue doubled and the sales staff grew. In 1995, she was promoted to marketing director. She became general manager in 2000.
As general manager she oversees business operations for two newspapers, The American and its sister paper the Mount Desert Islander. She also is ultimately responsible for the company’s 55 employees and the printing operation.
“I enjoy referring to her as “Exhibit A”, great proof of what Maine youth can accomplish when provided the opportunity,” said Baker, who retired and sold the newspapers in 2018.
Diane Norton, a longtime friend and executive director of the Maine Press Association, describes Carlisle as a “visionary.”
“She’s just so knowledgeable about the newspaper business and very willing to, you know, look at innovations, to try new things. There have been so many changes over the years.
“I admire her longevity and her constant optimism for the future and her not giving into the idea that newspapers are dying,” Norton added.
American Managing Editor Stephen Fay, who retires May 31, describes Carlisle’s leadership style as “intuitive, with great instincts and insights into an individual’s potential.”
Fay said Carlisle has never interfered with news coverage in the name of the company’s business interests. Instead, her knowledge and passion for the area has enhanced the news.
“One of the simple realities is that she knows Hancock County — and Ellsworth in particular — infinitely better than I do or ever will. That’s been helpful to me,” Fay said.
“The two of us have been entirely aware of our good fortune in working for a man and now an institution that regards the management of a community newspaper as a stewardship — as a responsibility above and beyond a revenue stream,” he continued.
Carlisle is a past president of the Rotary Club of Ellsworth, charter member of the Noontime Rotary Club of Ellsworth and past president of the Maine Press Association. She was named Ellsworth’s Citizen of the Year in 2001. She is currently president of the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, the governing board of Woodlawn.
While she’ll continue to do some work for the newspapers after June 28, Carlisle mainly intends to relax after working 50-60 hour weeks for decades.
A co-worker once told her, “You’re the one who makes the trains run on time.”
“I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s me,’” Carlisle said.