- By BETH QUIMBY

Staff Writer

WESTBROOK – Hundreds of police officers, family members and friends gathered at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center on Sunday to mourn Peter MacVane, a popular South Portland police officer.

Mourners passed under a huge American flag over Stroudwater Road, strung between two South Portland Fire Department ladder trucks, to arrive at the service, where dozens of officers from departments around the state lined the walkway. Inside, the Rev. David Brennnan, South Portland Police Department chaplain, led the service.

MacVane, 61, a 34-year veteran of the department, died Wednesday after a five-year battle with cancer.

MacVane was remembered as tough, courageous, generous and funny. He was known for his signature thumbs-up salute and his dedication to Maine Special Olympics. Generations of schoolchildren also knew him as Officer Friendly, for his years spent teaching elementary students about safety.

“Even on his worst days he continued to give us some of our best days. The city of South Portland was incredibly blessed,” said South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins.

He continued to work until just days before his death. Googins said that was typical of MacVane, who started out on the department working night shifts and went on to become one of its first motorcycle officers.

Lt. Frank Clark said MacVane loved the thrill of riding a motorcycle over the back roads of Maine.

“Speed might have been one of his needs,” said Clark.

He was famous for taking photos, talking people into humorous poses and sharing them with friends.

Lisa Bird, public relations director for Maine Special Olympics, said she has a special file on her computer filled with hundreds of photos MacVane sent her.

Bird said MacVane’s fundraising for her organization — leading plunges into the icy Atlantic in winter and camping out on rooftops during hot summer nights — was widely appreciated by the athletes.

Bird said one time a terrible thunderstorm struck as MacVane camped out. She raced to the scene, concerned about his welfare and pleaded with him to come down.

“He said, ‘Are you kidding me? What a way to go,’ ” she said.

After that, Bird said, she figured he was so strong, she needn’t worry about him.

“I never thought we would get here because he was so strong,” Bird said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com