Dan Bancroft died doing something he had grown to love in his retirement years.
Bancroft, 72, of York, drowned while swimming in the ocean off York Harbor Beach on Friday afternoon.
Cold water swimming was a pastime that the retired trial lawyer and playwright had become fascinated with after he moved to York five years ago from Newton, Massachusetts, a landlocked Boston suburb. He enjoyed swimming short distances on the beach that was not far from his new home.
“Dan was always very athletic. Tennis and squash were his favorites, but he became fascinated with cold water swimming,” his wife, Anne Bancroft, said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “He did an ocean swim on New Year’s Day for Special Olympics. When he came out of the water, he said, ‘This feels so great.’ He loved it and I think he felt challenged by it. It made him feel vibrant and refreshed.”
York’s Deputy Police Chief Steven Spofford confirmed Wednesday that Bancroft drowned while swimming off York Harbor Beach on Friday. Anne Bancroft said York police are not sure what caused her husband to drown, but she thinks he got into trouble and was unable to get back to shore. Police said there were high surf conditions at the time.
York police said they received a 911 call around 3:55 p.m. on Friday, about a possible drowning off York Harbor Beach. Police, fire and ambulance crews responded, but it was a rescue boat operated by the harbor master that was able to bring Bancroft to shore. He died at the scene despite efforts to resuscitate him.
Bancroft and his wife bought a home in York in 2017. He split his time between his new life in York and his law practice before finally retiring for good just before the pandemic hit in February 2020.
Bancroft worked as a trial lawyer in Massachusetts for 45 years, co-founding his law firm in 1981. A substantial portion of Bancroft’s legal practice consisted of representing owners and managers of subsidized housing, according to the firm’s website. In addition, Bancroft served on the board of directors of Commonwealth Land Trust, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving neighborhoods and preventing homelessness.
Anne Bancroft said her husband also was a published playwright. He wrote a short play called “Choices,” which is dedicated to his mother and his maternal grandparents, German Jews who were living in Frankfurt at the beginning of World War II. His mother, who was a teenager at the time, chose to flee the Nazis, but was forced to leave her parents behind while she sought refuge in Jerusalem.
Bancroft was a skilled storyteller with a creative imagination, his wife said. When their three children were young, he would tell stories in the hallway outside their bedrooms to help them fall asleep.
Soon after the couple moved to York, Bancroft was chosen to serve as president of the York Public Library. In his library trustee profile, Bancroft said his love affair with libraries ran deep and that he was delighted to be able to provide York with a place where people and ideas could connect.
His wife recalled that one of the first things her husband did after they closed on their new home was to go to the library and get a library card.
A BELIEVER IN PUBLIC LIBRARIES
The York Public Library will miss his presence and leadership.
“Dan was a great believer in the mission of public libraries,” Michelle Sampson, the library’s executive director, said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “His death has been such a tragedy. He was just the kindest man and so generous with his time. He jumped into the thick of things when most people who retire just want to kick back.”
The library trustees met at the York Harbor Inn Tuesday night and toasted their colleague.
“We raised a glass to Dan,” Sampson said.
In addition to serving on the library board of trustees, Bancroft worked as a substitute teacher at York Middle School twice a week.
Sampson said his students were devastated to learn of his death and described Bancroft as being their favorite substitute.
His love of books and reading was so deep that Bancroft and his wife volunteered to speak before the local school board last year against a proposed school library ban on “Perfectly Normal,” a book about different definitions of sexuality, Sampson said.
Bancroft also dabbled in journalism, writing stories for the York Weekly newspaper for a couple of years.
“He was curious about people and in those people who lived locally, but who rarely got noticed,” his wife said of his reporting. “I think Dan felt it was a gift to help people see each other and to help them recognize each other.”
A celebration of life for Bancroft will be held at the library on Jan. 28. The event is scheduled for 3 p.m. and is open to the public.
Bancroft is survived by his wife, Anne, who serves as a part-time minister at the Midcoast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church in Damariscotta and his three adult children: Elizabeth, Ben and Lilly, and four grandchildren.
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