A Cape Elizabeth man who dedicated his life to responding to natural disasters died Thursday, just a few weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.

John “Jack” Vallely III passed away at Maine Medical Center surrounded by his family, friends, and his dog, Fred. He was 61.

Mr. Vallely played a key role in directing the cleanup efforts in September 1996 after the Liberian Tanker Julie N. struck the former Million Dollar Bridge between Portland and South Portland.

The bridge was replaced a year later by the Casco Bay Bridge. The accident ruptured the hull of the tanker, which caused more than 179,000 gallons of heating oil to spill into Portland Harbor and Fore River estuaries.

Mr. Vallely also served as a first responder to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, to the August 2005 devastation in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina caused the city’s levee systems to fail, and to the October 2012 storm known as Hurricane Sandy, which caused significant damage in New York and New Jersey.

“He loved his work and especially the people he worked with, but he was gone a lot and that was hard on us,” said Mr. Vallely’s wife, Deborah Vallely.

Mr. Vallely was born in Portland and attended schools in Portland and Falmouth. His parents moved to Wrentham, Mass., where he graduated from high school. After graduation, he returned to Maine.

His career in environmental services began in 1975 when he took a job with Seacoast Ocean Services in Portland and Jetline Ocean Services in South Portland.

Mr. Vallely married the former Deborah DiPietro in Portland on April 17, 1982. They raised their three children at a home he helped build in Cape Elizabeth.

The couple celebrated their 31st anniversary on the night before he passed away.

His wife said her husband found his “dream job” in 1987 when he went to work for Clean Harbors Environmental Services. He worked for the company until February, when he had to retire for health reasons.

At the time he left the company, Mr. Vallely was employed as vice president/director of site services.

His wife said that when her husband responded to the terrorist attacks in New York and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, he recovered bodies from both disasters.

“He said Katrina was a lot worse due to the flooding,” she recalled.

She said her husband was generous to strangers, something she suspects he picked up from having seen so many people in distress. He would keep a cup of change in his glove compartment and hand it out to homeless people he encountered standing on Portland street corners.

“It didn’t matter to him that they were begging for money. He would say, ‘What if one of those people was legitimate and truly in dire straits? They could use a little help,’ ” his wife said.

He loved to play golf and ski. Each year, he would organize a golf tournament to benefit charitable organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Center for Grieving Children.

When he wasn’t working, playing golf, or skiing, he enjoyed spending time on his boat, which was named “You Don’t Know Jack.” Mr. Vallely had been called Jack since childhood.

His wife said her husband was an adventurous soul. When he was 15 years old, he left with three friends in a Volkswagen bus on a cross-country trip to California. He left a note for his mother on the kitchen refrigerator.

The note read, “Gone for the summer.”

“We’ve been blessed in spite of everything that happened,” his wife said. “He did what he wanted to do in his life.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com