SANFORD (AP) — Everett “Vic” Firth, whose career as a timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra spanned 50 years and who launched a successful drumstick company bearing his name, has died at 85.

Firth, who died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at his home in Boston, joined the Boston Symphony in 1952, performing for legendary conductors including Leonard Bernstein. He also led the percussion department at the New England Conservatory.

A native of Winchester, Massachusetts, Firth grew up in Sanford, where he played a number of instruments before settling on percussion and forming an 18-piece “Vic Firth Big Band” in high school.

He was a 1948 graduate of Sanford High School, where he was a member of the high school band, and was inducted to the Sanford High School Hall of Fame in 2000.

Local historian Harland Eastman was a year ahead of Firth in school, and was a member of the percussion section of the high school band. Firth joined the school band when his father, also named Everett, became band director.

“I thought I’d give him some pointers,” Eastman wryly recalled Monday night. He quickly learned that Firth was already possessed of a keen knowledge and skill.

“Oh God, he was good,” said Eastman of Firth’s ability, even in high school.

Firth began making drums and mallets for himself and students at the New England Conservatory because he was unhappy with the warped utensils that were available at the time.

Eventually, he rescued a 65,000-square-foot plant from bankruptcy and began manufacturing them in Newport, where they’re still made. The company merged with cymbal maker Avedis Zildjian Company in 2010. The company employs about 150 people, most at its Newport factory.

The drumstick company Firth founded in 1963 said his “boundless passion for music and musicians drove every decision he made.”

He joined the Boston Symphony at age 21 before he graduated from the New England Conservatory, his company said, and retired from the Boston Symphony in 2002.

“Vic was quite simply the consummate artist,” former BSO conductor Seiji Ozawa said in a statement. “I believe he was the single greatest percussionist anywhere in the world.”

“No matter where I’ve been around the country, whenever I meet a drummer I mention that Vic Firth graduated from my high school,” said historian and Sanford High School teacher Paul Auger. “They are always blown away. Vic also made a lot of instructional material that was very popular with beginning percussionists. I cannot think of anyone in the last 50 years that has had such widespread influence on a musical instrument.”

He returned to Sanford often, visiting friends.

“He was one of the world’s great percussionists,” said Eastman. “He really was.”

—Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells contributed to this report.



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