PORTLAND – Stephen Aylward, a popular and respected professor at Saint Joseph’s College who was instrumental in developing Portland’s Riverton Rail Trail, died Thursday from injuries he suffered in a car accident. He was 57.

Mr. Aylward taught history and political science at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish for the past four years. He was remembered by colleagues Monday as a dedicated teacher and scholar who connected with his students, particularly in the area of political theory.

Dr. Jonathan Malmude, an assistant professor of history at Saint Joseph’s, said Mr. Aylward had a way of relating political science to other fields, such as history, business, sociology, theology and classical studies.

“He could connect with students intellectually and demonstrate practical explanations of the discipline,” Malmude said. “His perceptions were really based on a true commitment to the common good. (He was) balanced and measured in the way he approached things. He was a really good teacher.”

Mr. Aylward grew up in Portland and graduated from Deering High School in 1972. He attended the University of Maine at Orono, where he studied political science and economics.

Mr. Aylward then joined the Army’s ROTC program. He served in the Army for 20 years as a field artillery fire support officer and as a foreign area officer, with a specialty in Southeast Asia. Some highlights of his career included helping to build a school in Laos and delivering food and supplies to Somalia. He also participated in diplomatic missions in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Thailand. He retired as a lieutenant colonel, working in the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.

His wife, Helen Aylward of Portland, said he served with pride and honor. She said Monday that he would sleep under his desk at the Pentagon if there was a critical situation brewing. He also slept under his desk at Saint Joseph’s if he felt too sick to drive, she said.

“He worked above and beyond what was expected,” she said. “He made a great impact wherever he was stationed.”

Mr. Aylward and his wife were married for 25 years. They met at the movies while he was on leave from the Army. He was there with his sister and she was there with her three children. Within a year, they were married.

“He called it a wartime romance because we did a lot of letter writing and phone calls,” she said. “(Our life) was wonderful. Being in the Army, we traveled and moved around a lot. Steve’s leadership skills also applied to his life as a father and husband. We worked together. Just as he cared for his troops, he cared for us. He always thanked me for giving him a family.”

The couple returned to Portland nine years ago.

Mr. Aylward was involved in Portland Trails, and was instrumental in developing the Riverton Rail Trail, a 1.5-mile trail that follows the historic Portland-Lewiston Interurban Rail line. The trail passed by the end of his street, his wife said.

Mr. Aylward was diagnosed with cancer in January after doctors discovered a tumor wrapped around his optic nerve. His surgery was successful, but the tumor grew back and many more had appeared.

He died Thursday after the car he was driving crossed the center line and collided with another vehicle on Route 302 in Windham.

“This whole year, my heart has been put through a meat grinder,” his wife said. “I’ve had the whole year to grieve and cry and try to come to grips with losing my husband. I believe we’re all connected and my love for my husband is very strong. He is not physically here, but I still talk to him. I’ll miss his hugs and him holding me. I always felt at peace when he held me.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]