Mickey Boutilier, the founder of Special Olympics Maine who is credited with helping to transform the lives of thousands of Mainers with intellectual disabilities, died Monday after a brief illness. He was 83.

Boutilier founded Special Olympics Maine in 1969 and served as its president and chief executive officer for more than 35 years.

Inspired by his work as a special education teacher in Gorham, Boutilier took a group of students to compete in the first Special Olympics, at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1968. The two-day event drew more than 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada.

A year later, he founded Special Olympics Maine, organizing Maine’s first games with 976 athletes competing at the Portland Expo.

And a year after that, he led the country’s first winter Special Olympics, in Gorham.

He went on to establish numerous Special Olympics organizations throughout the country.

“Every minute of Mickey’s life was devoted to Special Olympics and to improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities,” said his granddaughter Lisa Bird, the public relations director for Special Olympics Maine. “I have never met a bigger supporter. It was everything to him.”

In the 1960s, Boutilier worked at the Pineland Center in New Gloucester, the state-run institution for the mentally disabled, where he saw the conditions brought on by steep budget cuts, poor administration and an underpaid staff.

The conditions prompted a lawsuit in 1975 alleging that residents didn’t receive medical care or other services. That led to the Pineland consent decree in 1978, addressing the needs of Mainers with mental and developmental disabilities.

For 23 years, Boutilier was chairman of the consumer advisory board for the Pineland consent decree.

Bonnie-Jean Brooks, who has been involved with Special Olympics Maine since 1974, said Boutilier held the state accountable.

“He asked tough questions, and demanded answers and data,” Brooks said. “He continued to hold their feet to the fire and hold them accountable for implementing the conditions of the Pineland consent decree. He was like a dog with a bone in his teeth.”

The decree eventually led to the closure of Pineland, and the development of services in the community for Pineland’s residents.

Boutilier was a staunch advocate for the hundreds of Mainers who moved out of Pineland and back into their communities. Brooks said he was an inspiration.

“A light went out when Mickey Boutilier died,” Brooks said Monday. “There’s no question about it. He was an inspiring and dedicated man. He made life better for so many people.”

Boutilier was widely recognized for his work with Special Olympics Maine. He received numerous awards throughout his career, including The Angel Award, the highest award given by Special Olympics Inc.

Boutilier was close with the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics. He spent a great deal of time working with her and others to develop the worldwide program. He was a pallbearer at Shriver’s funeral in 2009.

 

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

mcreamer@pressherald.com