ELLSWORTH — Herbert Trafton Silsby II died peacefully at his home on Dec. 29, 2013, surrounded by those who loved and cared for him. He was born Feb. 8, 1925, in Brewer, to Myrle Coombs Silsby and William S. Silsby Sr.
He lived in Aurora until 1935, when the family moved to Ellsworth, where his father would form the law firm of Clarke & Silsby. Herb attended Ellsworth High School and graduated from Higgins Classical Institute in 1943. While his service in the U.S. Army was brief, it was something of which he was very proud. In 1947, Herb graduated from Bowdoin College, where he was a member of the Chi Psi Fraternity. He attended Boston University Law School but never graduated because he passed the bar at the end of his second year and was admitted to practice in 1949. In 1950, Herb married Ruth Blaisdell, who was literally the girl next door. Throughout his 88 years, Herb distinguished himself as a lawyer, jurist, civic leader, Maine and local historian and author. His legal career began as a member of the law firm of Silsby & Silsby in 1949. He continued with the firm until 1977 practicing with his father and brother, William S. Silsby Jr. He was a member of the Board of Governors of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association from 1964 to 1972. He served as the president of the Maine State Bar Association in 1975 and as a member of the Maine Judicial Council from 1978 to 1992. One of his many accomplishments as a lawyer was drafting and procuring the passage of a Short Form Deeds Act, which made real estate transactions more affordable. Herb believed in the obligation of the legal profession to give back. In his 1991 Foreword to “One Hundred Years of Law and Justice,” the history of the Maine State Bar Association that he co-authored, Herb said, “The members of a profession have a moral duty, it is generally considered, to do pro bono work. The legal profession is in some respects a privileged group and in return owes society a fair contribution of time and talent.” True to these words, Herb lent his considerable talent and his time pro bono to many clients who couldn’t pay. Herb’s judicial career began as an Ellsworth Municipal Court judge from 1951 to 1955. In 1977, Governor James Longley nominated him to the Maine Superior Court, where he served until 1992, when he retired. During his 15 years as a judge, he traveled the state of Maine living in hotels and motels and returning home on the weekends. He considered it a privilege to be able to sit in courthouses around the state and get to know the lawyers, clerks and court reporters throughout Maine. Throughout his judicial tenure, he remained a modest, kind, courteous, prepared and grateful jurist who always had time to mentor a new lawyer and share stories with an experienced one. No matter what the demands of his law practice, Herb found the time to serve his church as a Sunday school superintendent and deacon of the First Congregational Church and director of the Maine Conference of Congregational Churches; his town as a member of the Ellsworth City Council from 1967 to 1971, serving as the chairman in 1967, chairman of the Maine Coast Regional Health Facility from 1976 to 1977, a trustee of the Ellsworth Public Library and the Woodlawn Museum, a director of the Union Trust Co. of Ellsworth from 1967 to 1977 and his political party as chairman of the Maine Young Republican Clubs from 1953 to 1957. Herb was a member of the Ellsworth Rotary Club for 50 years and served as club secretary and co-chairman of the Rotary District Conference Committee in 1962. He was honored twice by the Rotary with a Paul Harris Fellow award for his commitment to the Ellsworth Club and his ongoing support to the Rotary Foundation. Herb was a member of the Ellsworth Junior Chamber of Commerce and was named Jaycee of the Year from 1958 to 1959 and Ellsworth Citizen of the Year in 1993. He was a lifelong member of the Masonic Lodge and a Shriner. While law was his profession and service to his community his responsibility, history and writing were his avocations. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations and served as vice president from 2000-2004. He was president of the Hancock County Historical Society from 1966-1972 and president of the Maine Historical Society from 1973 to 1976. He served as a director of the Northeast Folklore Society in 1964 and as a trustee of the Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums from 1967 to 1977. In 1977, he was elected as a member of the prestigious American Antiquarian Society. Herb’s expertise on state and local history was renowned. He lectured at the Ellsworth Public Library, the Woodlawn Museum, Ellsworth Adult Education programs and various other groups and societies throughout Downeast Maine. In 1989, he delivered a speech before a special session of the full Supreme Judicial Court of Maine at the Hancock County Courthouse commemorating the 200th anniversary of the incorporation of Hancock County. He was a co-author with his son-in-law, Timothy Plouff, of “Somebody’s a Talkin’ – The History of the Union River Telephone Company” in Aurora, Maine (2011). Herb was a co-owner with his siblings of the Union River Telephone, which was co-founded by his namesake Herbert T. Silsby in 1905 and served as president from 1953 to 2013. Herb also wrote “A Brief History of Ellsworth” (1963), “History of Superior Court” (1980), “History of the Ellsworth American” (2000), was co-author of “One Hundred Years of Law and Justice” (1991) and many other articles in historical and legal periodicals, newspapers and magazines. Herb also loved sharing his enthusiasm for Hancock County history in his popular weekly column “Looking Backward” featured in The Ellsworth American from 1996 to 2004. In his “spare” time, Herb enjoyed golf, bridge, eating Ruth’s cooking especially her pies, opera and telling stories of his childhood in Aurora. Herb was a man of character whose life was defined by commitment to his family, his profession and his community.
Herb is survived by his wife of 63 years, Ruth (Blaisdell) Silsby; his daughters, Paula D. Silsby of Portland and Kathryn M. Silsby and her husband, Timothy Plouff, of Otis; his brother, William S. Silsby Jr. and his wife, Noreen, of Aurora; his sister, Beverly McLean and her husband, Preston, of Bangor; his sister-in-law, Glenice Carpenter, of Ellsworth; and several nieces and nephews.
Visiting hours will be held 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, at Jordan-Fernald, 113 Franklin St., Ellsworth. Funeral services will be held 2 p.m., Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, at the First Congregational Church, 2 Church St., Ellsworth. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that gifts be made in Herb’s memory to the Ellsworth Public Library, 20 State St., Ellsworth, ME 04605; the Ellsworth Historical Society, P.O. Box 355, Ellsworth, ME 04605 or the Campaign for Justice, 40 Water St., Hallowell, ME 04347 or online at campaignforjustice.org. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.