Dan Bancroft, lawyer turned writer,
remembered as ‘huge positive spirit’
YORK, Maine — Dan Bancroft had only lived in York for nearly six years, but he seemingly touched every part of the community.
Bancroft, a retired lawyer turned playwright, journalist and substitute teacher, died Friday at the age of 72 while on a swim in the ocean at Harbor Beach in York, according to his family and police. He had moved with his family from Newton, Massachusetts, to a community he loved, writing news stories for the York Weekly while becoming president of the York Public Library’s Board of Trustees.
Bancroft’s wife, Anne, said it was his curiosity that drove him to meet people
from every corner of the community, a place they had visited with their children since the 1980s.
Her husband, she said, would often swim in the cold water near his home even in the winter. The couple had plans to go out for dinner that night, but he
never came home. “They don’t know exactly what happened. He got in trouble somehow,” said
Anne, holding back tears Tuesday in their home on Sentry Hill Road. “Purely
an accident. Just a tragedy.”
A celebration of life service is planned at the York Public Library Jan. 28 at 3 p.m. that will be open to the public. Those who knew him in town said he was a joyful person who loved people and was passionate about community. Rozanna Patane, a member of the York Energy Steering Committee, had been working on a project at the library with Bancroft when she learned of his death.
“Dan was an extraordinary man, in that to meet him is to be his friend,” Patane said. “He felt so lucky to be in this community, and he thought he was living in
paradise in York.”
A retired lawyer finds a new life in York
Bancroft, a native New Yorker, came to York with his wife after a 45-year career as a trial lawyer. He and Anne raised their children in Newton while occasionally visiting York Harbor as a family.
Bancroft was already an established playwright when he began his move to Maine. He had plays published in Boston, New York and Provincetown. One of his short plays, “Choices,” told the story of his Jewish mother’s escape from Nazi Germany and was performed in Nuremberg in 2010 as part of a Holocaust memorial series.
Bancroft took up newspaper writing shortly after his family purchased their York Harbor home. He met longtime York Weekly reporter and editor Deborah McDermott, who hired him despite the fact he did not have journalism experience.
“I took a chance on him,” McDermott said. “I was so glad I did.”
Bancroft wrote stories for the Weekly from 2019 to 2021. McDermott said he had a natural curiosity and a manner about him that put all sorts of people at ease. She said he had natural writing ability and found his work to be an engaging read.
McDermott said Bancroft still had so many years to give of his time and talent to the coastal Maine town.
“He was a wonderful, generous man with a huge capacity for seeing the humanity in everyone,” McDermott said. “His death is York’s loss.”
Bancroft found other ways to help, as well. In addition to his work with the library, he was a substitute teacher for the York Middle School for about a year. YMS Principal Barbara Maling described him as a “bright light” who was willing to help with any subject.
“A huge positive spirit. A really wonderful person,” Maling said.
A tragic accident at York Harbor Beach
Bancroft, an avid athlete, was never a swimmer but recently took up cold water swimming, something his wife said captured his imagination. He was strong enough to play sports like tennis at a highly competitive level, and soon he began gearing up with gloves, booties and goggles for cold water swims at Harbor Beach.
“He would just go like, 30 strokes this way, 30 strokes that way, stand up and get out of the water,” said Anne, looking at photos on her phone of her husband on the beach. “He didn’t stay in a long time, but he really enjoyed it.”
Friday, Bancroft went out for his regular swim. At 3:55 p.m., however, police received a report of a potential drowning offshore in high surf. York’s harbor master found Bancroft and pulled him to shore off Western Point Road. Attempts were made to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced deceased on the scene, police said.
‘Amazing’ outpouring of support
Since Friday, the Bancroft home has been busy with family and community members who make sure Anne is not alone too often, which she said has helped her and her children get through this time. Dan leaves behind three adult children — Elizabeth, Ben and Lily — and four young grandchildren — Maisie, Max, Elliott and Zoë.
“People have just shown up and brought food and sent messages,” Anne said. “It’s been a really amazing outpouring of support.”
At home, Bancroft is remembered by his family as a loving husband, father and grandfather. Anne said he had a love of children that was a perfect fit for his job as a substitute teacher for middle-schoolers.
In marriage, Anne said she and her husband always made a point to prioritize their love for each other. Their daughter Lily said she always felt like she had parents whose relationship that “people, they’re jealous of.”
“Not jealous, that’s the wrong word,” Lily said. “But I always felt like I had parents who really loved each other and danced together in the kitchen.”
Anne wore a necklace Tuesday she said her husband once gave her with a card that included a poem by E.E. Cummings that read, “I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).”
Anne, herself a reverend of the Unitarian Universalist church, said her husband did not practice religion but was “culturally Jewish.” He never wanted to go to temple, she said, but always liked knowing one was nearby. In times of mourning, she said members of the Jewish faith traditionally leave stones at the graves of loved ones to show they were there to pay their respects.
“I know that will be a thing, every time I go to Harbor Beach, just pick up a stone and throw it in the water and let him know that I was there,” Anne said. “I don’t imagine not carrying Dan with me all of the time.”
In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to your local Blood Bank. Dan made a habit of donating blood and platelets as often as he could. Alternatively, contributions to the York Public Library or to the Maine Special Olympics are appreciated. On January 1, Dan went for his first swim of the year as part of a fundraiser for the Special Olympics (https://secure.frontstream.com/lobster-dip-2023/donate/participant/5149765).
Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, January 28, 3:00 at the York Public Library, and Saturday, February 11, 2:00 at the First Unitarian Society in Newton.