Drawing on his experience as a civic leader, Auburn lawyer Richard Trafton shares his thoughts on leadership and also talks about balancing the life of a lawyer with public service.
MaineCF: You have an interesting background as a public servant and community volunteer. What are some of the highlights of this work?
Richard Trafton: Since coming back to my hometown [of Auburn] after college, I have been involved in a number of different organizations. I helped start a French newspaper, trying to build on the Franco-American heritage of Lewiston and Auburn. I later served two terms in the Maine Senate. I also ran for mayor of Auburn, a position I held for five years.
After taking a break from politics, I joined the board of directors of the Auburn Public Library after my wife had helped raise $7 million to renovate it. I am currently chairman of the board of the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou. It is best known for its competitive ski program, but it also works in over a hundred communities across Maine encouraging a healthy active outdoor lifestyle.
MaineCF: What have you learned about leadership from these experiences?
Trafton: Leadership attracts strength to an organization. How you run a meeting, how you involve members of the board or committee, and listen and encourage them to take an active role—that process of engagement helps strengthen the organization.
Leadership should promote involvement. The leader has to structure the meetings and the activities of a board to draw out people, to encourage good people to want to participate, and consequently put an oar in the water.
MaineCF: Can you talk a little bit about how your public service may have impacted your role as an attorney?
Trafton: It used to be that lawyers, whether from a big or small firm, often participated in the Legislature or town and city councils. Over the years that changed because the profession of law changed. It has become much more demanding in terms of the number of hours a lawyer needs to be in his office with clients. Working for a small law firm in a smaller town, I was able to devote time to this civic work. I also had partners who were willing to let me take time off.
The reality is any kind of nonprofit effort impacts your professional life. I feel privileged to have been able to serve as much as I have.
MaineCF: Could you share a story or two working with the Maine Community Foundation?
Trafton: My first connection was an educational trust created by the will of Annette Brown that was designed to encourage secondary students in the Auburn/Lewiston area to go on to college. I worked with community foundation to roll the trust into a fund that they manage. Now [MaineCF’s] Androscoggin County Committee oversees the fund, and it has continued to do what was originally proposed: help local students.
When I became board chair of the Auburn Library, I was concerned about its endowment. We transferred all the funds into management by Maine Community Foundation. The library’s trustees continue to appreciate the guidance that the foundation has provided.
MaineCF: How do you view the role of the foundation in your work?
Trafton: As a lawyer I’m often put in a position to solve a problem. The Maine Community Foundation has helped me figure them out. Their approach isn’t cookie-cutter; staff will help craft a solution that is tailored to your particular situation. I have referred others to the foundation for similar guidance. I think they are a true resource for Maine.
Richard L. Trafton is a lifelong resident of Auburn and partner at Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette, a law firm founded by his father. A graduate of Dartmouth College, where he was an All-American Nordic combined skier, and the University of Maine School of Law, Trafton served in the Maine Senate (1982-1986) and was mayor of Auburn (1989-1994). He has chaired the Maine Winter Sports Center Board of Directors since 2014.