By Katina Caraganis
TOWNSEND -- On Thursday, longtime Townsend resident Gary Evans was remembered by his family and friends as someone who would go out of his way to help someone in need.
Gary Evans, 73, and his son, Matthew, went hiking on Mount Watatic in Ashburnham Wednesday, a tradition they've done for many years. The pair left for the hike at different times, and the elder Evans never made it to the summit.
Gary Evans, owner of Evans on the Common, a clothing and gift store and a local institution, was found unresponsive by his son on the mountain after he failed to make it to their meeting spot at the summit. Matthew Evans said his father opted to begin his hike earlier, and instead of going up the same way, Matthew Evans said he ran up a more challenging route.
The elder Evans made it up about three-quarters of the mountain before collapsing near an overlook, according to first-responders on scene. He died of an apparent heart attack
Matthew Evans immediately began CPR after calling for help. The rescue was a difficult one for Ashburnham first-responders. They had assistance from the Ashby Fire Department, which has an all-terrain vehicle that was used for hauling equipment and carrying Evans.
The terrain was steep, with an incline estimated at a 20 percent to 25 percent grade, which forced rescuers to put Evans on a sled. Seven workers carried him to the other side of the mountain, which is not as steep.
The steep part of the mountain required some hikers to walk ahead about 30 feet to tie a rope to a tree so rescuers could pull themselves and the sled up the hill.
"He seemed OK before he started. He has sleep apnea and has a mask, which has been helping, but he doesn't always wear it," Matthew Evans said. "He said he had a cold and had spent most of Saturday sleeping but other than that, he seemed perfectly fine."
He had three children, two sons and a daughter, but Matthew Evans is the only one of the three still heavily involved with the business.
"He was full of life. He loved talking to people, especially customers that would come into the store. He loved experiencing new things," Evans said. "He was just a super nice guy. He was willing to help anyone at any time."
He grew up in Iowa, and his son said his mother still had much of what he called Midwestern charm that he brought into the business.
Gary Evans opened his shoe and apparel store in Townsend 33 years ago, operating in one location before moving Evans on the Common to its current location at Townsend Common.
"He loved the character of this building and he loved the history. This was the first school building in town," Matthew Evans said. "So many people thought he was crazy to open a store in the middle of nowhere, but this is what he wanted."
Selectman Colin McNabb, whose family owns McNabb's Pharmacy on Main Street, was saddened by the news.
"To be quite honest, I was very shocked because I talked to Gary not a week ago and he was telling me his plans to climb the mountain on Christmas Day and New Year's," he said.
"He (Gary) is more the age of my father and they've been close for years. Being in a family business, you can't help but get to know the other businessmen in town," McNabb said. "Gary was quite a character. He was very kind, just very good to his employees."
McNabb dubbed him the "local adventurer" because Evans enjoyed skydiving and other high-energy activities.
"I have heard from quite a few other people in town. It's more people are just getting over the shock. I know people are waiting to hear about any memorial services," he said. "Gary was very much a prominent figure in town and he will be missed."
Town Administrator Andy Sheehan said he did not know Evans personally, but said the store has a strong reputation.
"It's certainly become an institution around here," Sheehan said. "Certainly the store is well known and is really an anchor on the common and in the downtown area."
The only state in the country Gary Evans had never visited was Alaska, and he was planning a fishing trip there for himself and his two sons. Matthew Evans wasn't sure Thursday whether he and his brother would still go.
"He loved people. We've had more than what I ever expected in terms out outpouring of support from being in this community. It's a testament to the people in this town," he said. "His life was this store. I'm going to try and do whatever it takes to keep that going."
Follow Katina Caraganis on Tout and Twitter @kcaraganis.