James Brunelle, a distinguished journalist who spent more than four decades at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram writing stories and columns about Maine government and politics, has died. He was 86.

Brunelle died Monday in Silverdale, Washington, following a period of declining health, his family said.

He grew up in Claremont, New Hampshire, and began working as an announcer and disc-jockey as a teenager. He worked at radio stations throughout the Northeast, including a stint at WCSH radio.

Brunelle's melodious baritone voice took him to Binghamton, New York, where he worked as a utility announcer for WINR radio and TV. It was there that he began his career in journalism. According to his biography, as Brunelle tells it, he "was suddenly recruited into filling in for one of the station's newsmen, who had suffered a badly broken leg in a fall."

In 1965, Brunelle returned to Maine to join WCSH-TV as an anchor for the evening newscasts. He wrote copy for the 6 p.m. newscasts and was tapped on occasion to anchor the late daytime slot. He later became the station's legislative and political reporter in Augusta.

Former journalist John McCatherin nominated Brunelle to the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame in 2008. In an email Wednesday, McCatherin said that Brunelle wrote with precision and style, and had a comfort level and sense of humor that made him very readable. McCatherin said he visited Brunelle on a couple of occasions in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

"His golf game still stunk, but his erudition in conversation was still brilliant," he said. "He was a good friend who will be missed."

Brunelle joined the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in 1969. He was a political reporter, editorial page editor, editorial writer and columnist who penned a popular column on Maine politics. According to Brunelle's obituary, which he wrote, his "columns were laced with humor through anecdotes — both contemporary and historic — that put the face of humanity on the sometimes boring process of government and politics."

"Jim was the consummate voice of reason on our pages," said John Porter, a former editorial editor for the Portland Press Herald. "He was a little left of center, but pretty moderate and very practical. I always respected the fact that he was so thoughtful in how he approached every single issue. He really tried hard to ... break things down on a practical basis in how they played out in the real world. That was really consistent in all his work."

Brunelle's last column for the newspaper was published Dec. 25, 2006. He was inducted into the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame in 2008.

"Jim was a font of knowledge and institutional memory, from the intricacies of State House politics to the richness of Maine history," Bill Nemitz, a columnist at the Press Herald, said in an email. "But I'll remember him most for his boundless good humor — whenever you crossed paths with the man, you went away chuckling."

In the mid-70s, Brunelle served as a moderator and panelist on Maine Public Television's "Maine Week." From 1986 to 2003, he was a weekly commentator on Maine Public Broadcasting Network's popular show, "Maine Watch," which was hosted by Angus King, who now represents Maine in the U.S Senate.

"He was a friend, an astute observer of politics, and an insightful commentator who understood both issues and people," King said in a statement. "I was always impressed by Jim's ability to clearly communicate his thinking, combining policy knowledge and Maine humor to cut straight to the heart of a debate. Throughout his life, Jim made a substantial impact on Maine public affairs and improved our state for the better. I will miss him greatly."

Brunelle was a former longtime resident of Cape Elizabeth. He was a devoted husband to his wife, Ellen. The couple raised two children, William Brunelle, of Augusta; and Lynn Brunelle, of Bainbridge Island, Washington.

He was described by his daughter Wednesday as gracious, funny and extraordinary smart.

"He was humble and sweet," his daughter said. "He always had a sparkle in his eye. He was the fun, sweet, quiet guy in the room. He wasn't the guy who would steal the attention. But he was the most fun guy to sit next to."

Brunelle's love of humor and all things Maine led to him to write several publications including: "A Maine Almanac," an encyclopedia of Maine facts, 1978 and 1980; "Over to Home and From Away," an anthology of humor, 1981; and "Best of New England Humor," an anthology, 1990.

Brunelle and his wife wanted to be closer to their daughter and moved to Bainbridge Island in 2008. Ellen Brunelle died March 18, 2012. In recent years, he started painting and playing the cello. He also was part of a group of seniors that read Shakespeare.

Brunelle fell the day after Thanksgiving. After that, his body got tired and he lost the will to fight, his daughter said. He had a keen sense of humor right till the end.

"The last thing he said before he faded out was 'I love you," which was so him," she said. "He knew he was well-loved and we knew he loved us. Nothing was left unsaid."

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