Pooch 'found his calling at the schools'

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Officer Wayne Drown, right, is on duty at Gorham High School in March 2018.

Officer Wayne Drown snaps a salute while representing Gorham at Wreaths Across America in December at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Gorham Police Officer Wayne Drown, pictured here on patrol, died Sunday at age 64. He was a respected school resource officer for more than two decades.

Officer Wayne Drown in December visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

GORHAM — The town lost a hometown hero and a beloved school resource officer this week. Longtime Gorham Police Officer Wayne “Pooch” Drown, 64, suffered a heart attack Sunday and died at Maine Medical Center.

Drown was the school resource officer at the high school for more than 20 years. Condolences from stunned students, teachers, coaches and fellow police officers flooded the police Facebook page this week. “He never gave up on any kid,” one posting said.

“In the schools he was phenomenal. Kids were not afraid to go to him to talk. He was as dedicated as you could get,” said retired Gorham Police Chief Ronald Shepard, now a town councilor.

“He found his calling at the schools,” Shepard said.

“Gorham has lost a truly great human being, Gorham Police Chief Dan Jones posted. “Please keep Pooch, his family, his school family, his blue family and the whole community in your prayers.”

Drown, who was honored Jan. 26 with the Cop’s Cop award from the Maine Association of Police, leaves a wife, Lucinda Drown, and daughters, Kimberly Drown and Debra Drown.

Drown grew up in Little Falls and graduated from Gorham High School. It’s not clear how or when he was first nicknamed Pooch. “How he got his nickname is the million dollar question of the day,” Deputy Police Chief Christopher Sanborn said. “I have known him since I was a kid and his nickname has always been Pooch.”

Gorham teachers and students he helped through the years remember him as Pooch or Poochie.

Brian Jandreau, high school principal, said Monday was a very sad day at the school.

“But we are getting through it by sharing stories of Pooch and focusing on celebrating who he was, someone who loved Gorham, loved working with students, who valued relationships, and making Gorham the best place for students,” Jandreau said.

A former student, Shawn Riley of Windham, credits Drown with saving his life. “I got into drugs,” Riley said. “He re-directed me.”

Riley said his father had died and Drown became a mentor, encouraging him to play sports. If Drown saw him on the street, he would stop his police cruiser and take him out for a sandwich. “I have a lot of good memories of him,” Riley said. “I felt he cared for me.”

Chris Nason, another former student who now lives in Alaska, said learning of Drown’s death was “a shock.” Nason recalled when he was involved in an argument and “a bit” of a pushing incident with Drown near the high school office. He was invited to talk about it in Drown’s office. “It was always about talking,” Nason said. ” He had a big impact on a lot of kids.”

“He was always eager to listen,” a former student, Bridget Rossignol, now a college student, said Tuesday.

In addition to becoming the town’s first school resource officer, Drown served through the years on patrol duty and as a detective and he helped launch the DARE program in town. He was first hired as a Gorham reserve officer in 1982 and went fulltime in 1984.

He walked a foot beat in Gorham Village and Little Falls when he first started, Sanborn said.

Retired Gorham Police Officer and former department Lt. Wayne Coffin, initially said he was at a loss for words in remembering Drown. “He was always fair,” Coffin said. “A super guy.”

Coffin said Drown looked forward to playing golf and was thinking about retiring. “He was as good a golfer as he was a cop,”he said.

Drown was a detective when former Gorham Officer Michael Mercer was a rookie in 1987. “If you committed a crime in Gorham, Pooch would find you,” Mercer said. “Then once he got you, he would put on this amazing Columbo act while questioning the suspect. He would get you so comfortable and confused he would get a confession.”

Shepard said Drown as a detective was “like a bloodhound.” Shepard once considered reassigning Drown as a full-time detective, but Drown declined because he wanted to stick with his students.

Gorham Schools Superintendent Heather Perry  cancelled school on Thursday, Feb. 28, for Drown’s funeral. Perry called Drown an institution in a letter to parents.

“He has impacted the lives of so many families and so many children in Gorham in a positive way.  Pooch’s service to our school district as our school resource officer and to the greater community of Gorham has been tremendous over the years,” Perry wrote.

The funeral service is set for 10 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28, in the Costello Sports Complex Field House on the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham. A reception will follow the service at Gorham High School, 41 Morrill Ave.

Town Council Chairman Benjamin Hartwell said Drown would say what he really thought without “sugar coating it. “Pooch made a positive difference in many people’s lives here in Gorham and he will truly be missed,” he said.

In December, Drown represented Gorham in Wreaths Across America ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

He also was involved with Special Olympics of Maine for more than 35 years.

Drown was a friend of former Gorham special education teacher Mickey Boutilier, who founded Special Olympics of Maine in 1968, according to Lisa Bird, director of public relations.

“In 1984, he was one of the first participants in the Maine Law Enforcement Torch Run and never missed a year,” she said.

Over the years he also served as referee at the organization’s Unified Basketball games. For years, Drown’s barn served as storage for Special Olympics of Maine equipment.

“Not only did we consider him part of the family, our athletes got to know him and love him,” Bird said.

Bird said Special Olympics of Maine plans to do a special remembrance for Drown at its Maine Law Enforcement Torch Run kick-off meeting, Thursday, March 21 at Portland Marriott at Sables Oaks in South Portland.

Michael Kelley contributed to this report.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or email rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.