Highlights from the MLA: Ossie Beal

First printed in the MLA Newsletter, August, 2011.

Ossie Beal, MLA president from 1967 to 1974, was a hard-working man, known to be occasionally outspoken. An integral part of the interconnected world of Jonesport and Beals Island, Beal brought that those two qualities to his tenure as MLA president.

“Ossie dug clams during recess when he was a boy,” his widow, Nancy Beal, remarked. “He rowed a boat out to haul lobster traps, but all the boys did that then. He spoke his mind about things and didn’t mind who heard him.”

That sense of determination came to the fore in 1970 during the debate about locating an oil refinery in Machiasport and a desulphurization plant in Penobscot Bay. Economic development and the creation of jobs for the residents of Washington and Hancock County was then, as it is now, a pressing issue. Senator Edmund Muskie was considering endorsing construction of major oil projects as a way to bring an economic resurgence to the region.

The members of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association saw the proposals very differently. Ossie Beal was asked to testify on the MLA’s behalf at a Senate Committee on Air and Water Pollution hearing held in Machiasport and chaired by Senator Muskie. “Ossie certainly had a little political blood in him,” Nancy said. “He didn’t mind standing up in front of people.”

Beal wasn’t opposed to the projects on environmental grounds. Rather, Beal and the MLA opposed the proposals based on the stark reality that lobsters were the cornerstone of the Downeast economy. Any oil spill, no matter how slight, would have long-term repercussions for local lobstermen.

“It’s unbelievable that public servants selected for ability, wisdom, and vision can be so shortsighted, so unwise, as to pronounce the death of the coast of Maine. This is certainly a case of selling your birthright, and that of others, for a mess of pottage,” he declared at the hearing. Muskie eventually withdrew his support for the oil refinery projects.

According to Nancy, Ossie was also instrumental in creation of the Jonesport-Beals Island lobster cooperative and the cooperatives in Corea and Bucks Harbor. “He and Ralph Alley got together. They were pissed off about how much money the dealers were making,” Nancy recalled. “Ossie would say that at the end of a year he didn’t get so much as a 5 cent candy bar as a bonus.”

After retiring as president of the MLA, Ossie continued lobstering in the summer and fall months and also started dragging for quahogs during the winter. He served as a selectman for several years and on the board of the Jonesport-Beals Island cooperative. He died in 2003, leaving a sound personal and professional legacy behind. “We had a lot of fun together,” Nancy recalled. “We did a lot of dancing.”

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