Described by a former colleague as “pure gold,” Philip Ortolani, 66, helped advance the quality and accessibility of health care in the midcoast through 25 years of spirited service as chief operations officer for Mid Coast Health Services.

Ortolani, who retired last fall, and his wife were vacationing in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday when a car veered off the road, injuring the Cape Elizabeth couple and a pedestrian.

Ortolani died at Tampa General Hospital. His wife, Constance Ortolani, and a Tampa resident, Beatrice Sanchez, 34, were recovering Friday from injuries suffered in the incident.

Police said the 68-year-old driver had a sudden medical problem, causing the crash.

Ortolani’s death came as a shock to friends, who described him as a youthful, athletic man who was looking forward to a vigorous retirement.

“There’s probably no safer place to be walking,” said Herbert Paris, former chief executive officer of Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, who hired Ortolani. “They were walking on the sidewalk back to their hotel after going out to dinner and were getting ready to come home the next day. We’re all just heartsick.”

The crash was major news in Tampa, said Brunswick Town Councilor John Richardson, who also was there vacationing. Crime scene tape blocked off the downtown area where the crash happened, he said.

“What a horrible, horrible loss,” said Richardson, adding that Ortolani and Paris were among the key visionaries who put the new hospital together. “You’re talking about the loss of a real great leader in the midcoast community.”

Richardson would see Ortolani frequently walking for exercise in Brunswick, and when he saw people driving faster than he thought they should, he would hold up his hand for them to slow down.

“He was obviously very conscientious of what he was doing and what others were doing around him,” Richardson said.

Ortolani jogged daily and had run marathons in Boston and New York and the Beach-to-Beacon in his hometown of Cape Elizabeth at least 10 times. He ran in fundraisers for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He also enjoyed jazz music and photography and playing the trumpet.

“He was a loving husband, father and grandfather. We will miss him dearly, but he had a wonderful life and for that we are thankful,” his family said in a statement. Besides his wife, he is survived by two children, Nikki and Alex, who live in New York; and a grandchild.

Kathy Williamson, who lived next door to the Ortolanis for 22 years in Cape Elizabeth, recalled her neighbor as a very healthy man who kept his lawn well-manicured.

“We abutted their property, so a lot of it was over-the-fence talking,” she said of her interactions with the Ortolanis. “He seemed to be enjoying his retirement and they were looking forward to doing more traveling.”

Ortolani played a major role in the evolution of Mid Coast Health Services. He worked on the merger between Bath Memorial Hospital and Brunswick Regional Hospital in 1991 and the expansion of the health care group to include nursing homes, home health care, assisted living and a retirement community. He was instrumental in the development of the hospital’s new campus. The medical staff trusted him and held him in high regard, Paris said.

“He was a gentle person and treated all of his colleagues with a great deal of respect and they returned that respect to him,” Paris said. “The entire hospital staff was just devastated when this news broke. You can’t pass a single individual in the corridor who doesn’t feel a sense of loss and a warm spot of remembrance of their association with Phil.”

Ortolani had a background in industrial engineering and brought that discipline’s focus on quality improvement to the hospital’s work, Paris said. He also was committed to the Oasis Free Clinic, through which a network of health care professionals provided free care to uninsured patients.

He retired from the hospital in October.

“To adequately describe a list of his accomplishments and contributions to our organization and community would be impossible,” said a statement from Lois Skillings, president and chief executive officer of Mid Coast Health Services, posted on the hospital’s website. “He was a positive, generous, optimistic and considerate leader, beloved by all. His hard work and dedication to our organization will never be forgotten, and his legacy will live on in the compassionate care that we provide to our patients every day.”

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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