Michael Hayer, a longtime bus driver for the Greater Portland Transit District, who had a passion for life and gave back to the community, died Wednesday after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 63.

Mr. Hayer joined Portland Metro in 1975 and drove the Route 4 bus to Westbrook for many years. He worked for the bus service for 37 years before retiring in 2012.

Bruce Iverson, a friend and retired longtime Metro bus driver, said Mr. Hayer was a punctual driver, who followed the rules and treated people fairly.

“He was a great conversationalist,” Iverson said Thursday. “He would talk to just about anyone, anytime.”

Joe Gaudette, president and business agent of the ATU Local 714, remembered the years bus drivers would play cards in the lounge.

“The older guys would meet once a month to play cards at his house or my house,” Gaudette said. “It was a night out for the guys. His wife would put up with us.”

He was a loving husband of Catherine Hayer, of Westbrook. The couple celebrated their 25th anniversary in February. She said they had planned a trip to Yellowstone National Park this summer.

She chuckled Thursday, recalling the story of how they met. She was in high school and a passenger on the bus he was driving. Years passed before they met again in 1986. They lived in the same apartment building. One night, she came home to find him searching for his keys in the driveway. She said she grabbed a flashlight and helped him.

“A month later, I was in the laundry room. He stuck his head in and thanked me for helping him and asked me on a date,” she said. “We went on a date and that’s all it took.”

Mr. Hayer had a passion for riding ATVs and was a member of the Island Falls ATV Club. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, motorcycling and traveling with his wife. She said they visited the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Arizona and California. She talked openly about their life, saying it hasn’t always been easy.

“We had our ups and downs like most couples,” she said. “We stuck it out and made things work. We took our marriage seriously. Neither one of us were willing to throw those years away. It’s work. You have to keep at it. When you love someone, you do what it takes. It’s give and take.”

Mr. Hayer was active in the community, serving as past master of the Mason Saccarappa Lodge. He was also an active member of the Kora Shriners and part of its Kora Cycle corps. Iverson said he enjoyed his work with the Shriners. He said Mr. Hayer was a good friend.

“You couldn’t ask for a better friend,” he said. “He was like a brother to me. We traveled, rode motorcycles all over New England and rented bikes in Florida.”

In 2009, Mr. Hayer was diagnosed with leukemia. He had a bone marrow transplant in 2010 that put his cancer in remission. His wife said he came down with pneumonia in December, but it never cleared up. Tests showed he had tumors on his heart and intestine. His wife said he remained strong throughout the ordeal.

“He did what it took to fight for his life,” she said.

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

mcreamer@pressherald.com