Over the past five decades, Wayne Bosowicz became known as the dean of black bear guides and an ambassador of Maine’s forests. He was called a consummate conservationist, a savvy buisinessman and a knowledgeable naturalist.

But mostly, those who knew him – from state biologists to hunters, guides and the people of the North Maine Woods – say Bosowicz loved the wild animal he knew so well.

“He loved bears. There’s no question he loved bears,” said Craig McLaughlin, the director of the terrestrial division at Colorado Parks and Wildlife and a former Maine bear biologist.

“He wanted to make sure bears would be around in Maine for a long time. In the summer and fall he spent every day in the woods. It was his livelihood, but it was more than that, it was a way of life. He thought that bears made Maine a very special place.”

Bosowicz died Jan. 4 at age 73 after a long battle with cancer, a year after passing his world-famous business, Foggy Mountain Guide Service, on to his longtime guide, Brandon Bishop.

A founding member of the Maine Professional Guides Association, Bosowicz is credited with growing an organization that represents more than 1,200 Registered Maine Guides. After starting Foggy Mountain in 1964, he became one of the best-known Maine guides, catering to sportsmen and women from around the world. To everyone he addressed, Bosowicz would describe Maine’s woodlands as a beautiful, restorative place offering an experience unlike any other.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants. And he was one of the first,” said Don Kleiner, a guide of 30 years and director of the professional guides association.

“He had captains of industry and celebrities at his camp. And there were country singers. That’s not just because he was a well-known Maine guide. He treated everyone the same. I think that was a part of it.”

Former state wildlife director Ken Elowe lived a town over from Bosowicz and often stopped by Bosowicz’s camp in Piscataquis County. He said Bosowicz loved to share what he had learned about wildlife, but listened as well as he told stories.

“When he talked to you, you were the most important person, he was interested in what you were saying, and he always wanted to learn new things,” said Elowe, now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant regional director for science in the Northeast.

“He is so well-respected because of his approach, his candor, his personality and his knowledge. I’m not saying other guides are not. But Wayne had a reputation for doing that in spades.”

During the Maine clear-cutting referendums of the 1990s, Elowe said guides and biologists clashed with foresters over how to manage the forest for wildlife and paper companies. Elowe said meetings were divisive. But he recalls how Bosowicz asked questions without being confrontational, and at the end of every meeting found common ground with opponents.

“He was always interested in bears, but also in conservation in general,” Elowe said. “He made a specialty of bear guiding very early on. And he was passionate about it. But he had a more holistic approach. He wanted to see people work together.”

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who chaired the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife when he was a state representative, said Bosowicz was a polite ambassador of hunting, even though he didn’t like how political hunting had become.

In the past 13 years, Maine voters have narrowly defeated two referendums that sought to abolish bear baiting.

“He was such a purist in his craft of hunting. He didn’t understand why people could be against it,” Dunlap said. “Why would people say this ancient art that he practiced was barbaric? But instead of attacking people, he would step back and let them have their viewpoint. He always had this very kind way of talking. Wayne was part of the solution.

“If you think of an earlier time, 1,000 or 10,000 years ago, what would Wayne Bosowicz be? He would be a heralded member of his community, someone who understood the habits of bears.”

McLaughlin, the former Maine bear biologist, kept in touch with Bosowicz after he left Maine 15 years ago. Just a few weeks ago, McLaughlin directed a colleague curious about bear with white paws to Bosowicz for his opinion.

“Without a doubt, I learned as much from him as he learned from me,” McLaughlin said. “He’d be the first to tell you he didn’t have any rigorous university training in wildlife management. But he collected information, and he’d share it with you. He was a homegrown naturalist in his own right. I really respected that and valued it.”

Bosowicz had hunters from around the world come to his two camps, in Sebec and north of Moosehead Lake at historic Pittston Farm.

Jenn Mills, co-owner of Pittston Farm, said she saw hunters with Bosowicz from England, Brazil, Australia, Russia and beyond.

“In the beginning I didn’t really know him,” Mills said. “Then I overheard a hunter talking one time to another hunter say, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s actually here. Wayne is actually here.’ He is Mr. Black Bear to the world. Everyone knew Foggy Mountain.”

Jeff Anderson of Ann Arbor, Michigan, came to hunt at Foggy Mountain eight years ago and was so enchanted by the Maine woods and his guide there, he returned every year since.

“I was originally supposed to go to Canada, but my guide there got sick. Wayne opened up his home to me. That’s how I ended up in Maine,” Anderson said. “He would help anyone who needed it. His fame never went to his head.”

Patti and Paul Bass of Venice, Florida, met Bosowicz eight years ago when Paul wanted to hunt bear for the first time. The Basses have hunted out west and around the world. But they have returned each year to Foggy Mountain to see their friend.

Last week, Patti Bass flew to Maine to attend a private service for Bosowicz.

“I would have gone from one end of the Earth to the other to be there,” Bass said. “One of the things he always said was, ‘Nothing is a problem.’ Paul and I say that every day now.”

Bishop said his friend will be remembered for the legendary guiding service he grew, but mostly for his love of bears.

“He is the bear man, there is no doubt about that,” Bishop said. “He knew bear inside and out. He lived his life around bear.”