Cabinet columnist remembered

MILFORD – William Ferguson was part of the old guard of the Milford Rotary Club, not one of the young Turks, and no one expected him to do anything radical when clubs across the country started to admit women in the late 1980s.

So Steve Desmarais, one of those younger members, was surprised when Ferguson pushed for the Milford club to admit Betsey White and Marilyn Kenison.

The issue was very controversial, said Desmarais, but Ferguson “laid it on the line,” and because he proposed it, “it wasn’t going to be buried … I never would have dared to do it.”

Ferguson was 95 when he died on June 18 after a life as a community volunteer, businessman, writer and world traveler.

He joined Rotary soon after it was established here in the mid-1950s and wrote its newsletter and was the club’s president in 1958-59.

Friend and fellow Rotarian Stan Kankowski said Ferguson had an easygoing way about him that helped him at home and on his travels.

Once, in pre-cell phone days, he went to New York City to visit his daughter, Heidi, and wound up wandering around Columbus Circle with her phone number but no address.

As the story goes, a couple from the Milford area happened to be sitting in a coffee shop and one of them exclaimed, “Isn’t that Bill Ferguson?” and they helped him find a phone.

“He traveled through Europe that way,” Kankowski said.

Ferguson and his wife, Helen, visited Europe every year until her death in 1991 and then he resumed his trips, making 42 in all. During one of the couple’s trips to Great Britain they made friends with a local couple and for the next 20 years exchanged houses with them each autumn.

William and Helen, who was the sister of then-Cabinet owner Bill Rotch, moved their family from Massachusetts to Milford after World War II and for awhile he worked as a reporter, an advertising manager and at times a typesetter for the Cabinet.

In 1955 he opened an insurance agency right around the corner on Middle Street, but continued writing a column for The Cabinet, called The Rambling Reporter, for 50 years.

Kankowski said Ferguson, known as “Fergie,” loved Milford, loved writing the column and was proud of the fact that he once received a letter merely addressed to The Rambling Reporter, Milford, New Hampshire.

“At some point someone made him a metal cutout of the Rambling Reporter (a little running man with the fedora, pen and pipe) and he used it as a lawn ornament at Maplewood (his farm) and had it hung on the door to his apartment at RiverWoods,” the senior living facility in Exeter that was his home for the past 10 years, wrote Kankowski in an email.

Karen Johnson remembers that her mother, Rose Von Iderstine, and her cousin, Jeanie Philbrick, worked at Ferguson’s insurance agency for decades, and he sometimes took them to insurance industry seminars in Boston and threw big office Christmas parties.

“He was a wonderful boss,” said the retired Cabinet advertising representative. “My mother would never have seen the city,” if it weren’t for those trips.

Ferguson was active in many civic groups and led the effort to build Keyes Memorial Pool and founded the Souhegan Land Trust.

Kankowski said Ferguson’s only regret was that, because he was born in Fall River, Mass., he was not considered a Milford native.

Sometimes the Lady in the Post Office, a quarrelsome, English-language-mangling character, would show up in his column.

Kankowski imagines her saying, on her creator’s passing, that “he’s a native of Milford, New Hampshire, except that he wasn’t born here.”

Ferguson leaves his three children, William, John and Heidi Ehrich, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.