The body of a popular Bangor-area minister was found in the Penobscot River near Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Bucksport on Sunday morning.

Waldo County Sheriff’s Department officials identified the body as the Rev. Robert “Bob” Carlson, 68,  an Air Force veteran, founder of Penobscot Community Health Care and former pastor of the East Orrington Congregational Church.

“I can tell you that his body was recovered from the water,” said Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton. “I can’t confirm at this point how it got there.”

Trafton said his department received a call at 4 a.m. Sunday about someone on the bridge, which crosses the river between Verona Island and Prospect.

“I can’t confirm that he jumped,” Trafton said. “We don’t have an eyewitness that I’m aware of yet. (Monday) morning I’ll be getting briefed by the detective and we’ll have more information available.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, said today that he had breakfast with Carlson on Wednesday in Bangor, and they spoke about health care issues.

“Reverend Bob was a true advocate for those who need affordable access to health care,” Michaud said, “and he just never gave up on that issue.”

Michaud said Carlson was an important resource in the debate leading to passage of the health care bill and that the minister could say how political talking points would actually affect people in need.

“He was a very giving person,” Michaud said. “He is really going to be missed.”

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and her husband, former Gov. John R. McKernan, released their condolences in a public statement.

“The greater Bangor region and indeed the state of Maine has lost a beloved friend and an extraordinary figure, who has been a passionate voice improving countless lives,” the couple said.

Carlson also served as chaplain for Husson University and is a founder of Hope House, an emergency shelter in Bangor for the homeless and indigent. 

Although Carlson drove to East Millinocket to celebrate with Michaud on Election Night last fall, the minister was a Republican who strongly supported Snowe and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

“He supported anyone who supported issues that were important to him,” Michaud said. “He was an individual who just fought for the people who need a helping hand.”