Stanley J. Evans, M.D., a pioneer in the treatment of alcoholism and addiction, who transformed the lives of thousands of Mainers in recovery programs across the state, died Sunday at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 78.

Dr. Evans founded and directed alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation centers at Mercy Hospital in Portland and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. He moved to Florida in 2006, but had a private practice in Portland, using telemedicine to maintain a relationship with patients.

His career began in 1967 at Bangor Mental Health Institute as director of medical and surgical services. Soon after, he joined Eastern Maine Medical Center, where he worked as an assistant attending physician. Over the next few years, he saw a sharp increase in the number of people seeking treatment for alcoholism. In 1974, EMMC allowed Dr. Evans to use a few beds to treat those patients. In the first year, an estimated 200 people sought his help. Hospital officials then opened a 37-bed unit called the Alcohol Institute and named Dr. Evans its medical director. At the time, it was the only substance-abuse treatment facility in Maine.

In 1982, Dr. Evans established the Alcohol Institute at Mercy Hospital on State Street in Portland. At the time, it was 30-bed detoxification and rehabilitation program for adults and adolescents with substance-abuse issues. The facility, now called Mercy Recovery Center, moved to its current location in Westbrook around 2001. He served as medical director until he stepped down in 2005.

Glenda MacLachlan, who worked at Mercy Recovery Center with Dr. Evans for 20 years, said he had a passion for helping alcoholics and addicts. She said he had a gift for helping people see the truth about their drinking and using. She said he was honest and direct. Some welcomed his help. Others stormed out of his office, slamming the door behind them, she said.

“He would look people in the eye and say, ‘It’s cheaper than a funeral,’ ” MacLachlan said. “I watched him over the years not only show a great deal of compassion for his patients, but continue that through the years. He never gave up on people. … He was wonderful at passing on the message of hope to people. No matter how bad they felt about themselves, he would tell them that they could make it in this new world of recovery. He said he would be right there for them and he was.”

One of his former patients, Thomas Dyro, of Portland, credits Dr. Evans and his staff for saving his life. He saw the doctor dozens of times between the early 1980s and 2000. Each time, Dr. Evans found a bed for him.

“They gave me so much love and so much hope,” Dyro said. “We know your are going to get this thing. They just inspired me. A lot of people had given up on me. He never did. It’s a huge loss. That man helped thousands and thousands of men and women. I’m grateful today. I’m free today. I’m free from the chains of this disease.”

Another patient, Leonard Gauba of Biddeford, said Dr. Evans helped him greatly in his recovery.

“He has saved so many lives throughout the state,” Gauba said. “I have attended 12-step programs from Fort Kent to New Hampshire. Everywhere you go, you hear his name. People just know Stan Evans. He’s an icon.”

In 1986, Dr. Evans founded and served as president and medical director of the Smith House, the first ambulatory rehabilitation treatment facility in Maine. It offered counseling, intensive outpatient treatment and partial hospitalization for patients.

Since 1999, his private practice focused on medication management for chronic pain, and substance-abuse patients. In recent years, he used telemedicine to continue treating his patients. Today, his practice on Brighton Avenue serves over 200 patients. Melody Stacey, his longtime office manager, remembered him Tuesday as caring and compassionate. She said he often stayed late to treat people seeking help.

“We didn’t want to turn people away,” Stacey said. “He would say if you turn them away, they might not be here tomorrow. … He had such a compassion for helping people and getting people into treatment. Even if they needed to go out of state, he was right there on the phone making it happen. Today, I still get phone calls from people saying, ‘I’m 25 years sober and I just want to thank Dr. Evans for saving my life.’ ”

Dr. Evans served as medical director of Caron Renaissance, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Boca Raton. Outside of work, he enjoyed gardening, reading and listening to jazz.

“Daddy didn’t sit still,” said his daughter Tammy Napier of Atlanta. “He had a voracious appetite for learning and conversation. He loved to talk. … He was always available. You could always count on him to be honest. There was no pretense. Daddy was very transparent, very genuine and very authentic.”

He is survived by five children.

His funeral arrangements are being handled by Shuler’s Memorial Chapel in West Palm Beach, Fla. A memorial service is being planned for the recovery community, but details have not been finalized.

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

mcreamer@pressherald.com