PORTLAND — Martin Joyce, Jr., a retired Cumberland County sheriff and longtime Portland police sergeant, who was known for his compassion for the city’s homeless, died Monday. He was 84.

Mr. Joyce joined the Portland Police Department in 1955 as a foot patrolman. As an officer, he covered the city’s waterfront and Munjoy Hill neighborhood, where he grew up and lives his whole life. He became a sergeant in 1972 and a detective a year later. He retired in 1976.

His nephew, Patrick Keniston, said he was known for helping young people headed down the wrong path.

“Anytime he found someone desperate and on the verge of doing something foolish or committing a crime, he would do what ever he could to keep them out of trouble,” Keniston said. “That’s how he was wired. He was always looking to help others. He was always trying to solve problems at a lower level.”

Following his retirement, he worked briefly as a court officer. He held the position until 1981 when former Governor Joseph Brennan appointed him 47th sheriff of Cumberland County. He led the agency until 1989.

Sheriff Kevin J. Joyce, who is a distant relative, was hired by Joyce in 1986. The two hadn’t met until then. Sheriff Joyce said Monday afternoon that he was known for his compassion for Portland’s homeless. As sheriff, Mr. Joyce advocated for work and education programs for inmates. He also initiated a program to provide shelter for the city’s homeless on frigid winter nights. He would authorize jail officials to open its gym and set up cots for people to sleep. Homeless people who stayed the night got two hot meals.

“He was the first person… if someone needed something he would pull out his wallet and give them money,” Sheriff Joyce said. “He was a real generous individual. It was very well noted – if anyone needed help, he would help.”

Mr. Joyce was well-known and respected throughout the city. He grew up on Munjoy Hill and graduated from Portland High School in 1947. At age 14, he moved to Melbourne Street.

In 1976, he married the former Muriel Drisko, a longtime secretary at the Portland Police Department. They were married for 20 years before she died in 1996.

“He adored her,” Keniston said. “They really loved each other. … It was a very loving and committed relationship.”

Though Mr. Joyce didn’t have children, he was very close to his family. His nephews remembered a man who was “larger than life,” who took them to Red Sox games and wrestling matches in the Portland Exposition Center.

“He was more than an uncle to me,” Peter Keniston said Monday.“He was a great influence.”

“He had tremendous empathy for those who had less,” Patrick Keniston said.

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

mcreamer@pressherald.com