YORK BEACH – William A. Donnell was an accomplished outdoorsman, who fished and hunted in the York area his entire life.

His only vulnerability was that he couldn’t swim.

Mr. Donnell, 55, left his home on Sonny’s Lane around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to go fishing on York Pond. He usually fished till dusk, but he never made it home.

His son Edward Donnell and some friends went to the pond late Wednesday to look for him and found his overturned canoe. They called 911.

Donnell’s body was recovered at 4:30 a.m. He had the required life jacket in his canoe, but he wasn’t wearing it.

“He didn’t know how to swim and he didn’t have a life jacket on,” said Teresa Gardner, his former longtime girlfriend. “I’m shocked and upset. This shouldn’t have happened. If he wore his life jacket, things would have turned out differently.”

Mr. Donnell grew up fishing and lobstering in York Harbor and in the waters off Cape Neddick. He always owned boats and canoes, but he never learned how to swim.

A tragedy like this struck the family twice before. His brother Edward A. Donnell drowned in 1981 while he was lobstering off Nubble Light at Cape Neddick. He was 27.

His uncle Russell Donnell drowned Dec. 24, 1988, while he was lobstering in York Harbor.

“He always carried a life jacket, but he never wore it,” Gardner said. “I didn’t like it, but you couldn’t tell him anything. He always said he would stay on top of the water.”

The state medical examiner is expected to conduct an autopsy to make a final determination on the cause of death.

Mr. Donnell attended schools in York. He owned Donnell’s Auto Repair in Kittery for 23 years. He operated the small two-bay garage alone for most of his career. For the past 10 years, he worked with his son-in-law Paul Brogan. Gardner, who managed the office, said he built a successful business by his honestly and loyalty to his customers.

“He knew what he was doing,” Gardner said. “He was a good mechanic. He was fair. He liked the freedom of treating people like they should be treated.”

He sold the garage in April.

Mr. Donnell was in a relationship with Gardner for the past 25 years or so. The couple had one son together and he had three other children from his first marriage. She said they enjoyed fishing, hunting and four-wheeling together.

He was remembered by his daughter Friday as loving and supportive father. Amanda Brogan, of Rochester N.H., said he struggled with showing affection, but always told his children that he loved them.

“We just knew (he loved us),” Brogan said. “He has been my best friend for the past year. He was such an awesome person. I feel lost and sad. I’ll miss seeing him with my kids. I’ll miss his laugh.”

A wake will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Lucas & Eaton Funeral Home, 91 Long Sands Road in York.

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]