DENNYSVILLE, Maine — Lester Seeley’s April 7 retirement party attracted nearly 200 people paying tribute to a man who Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith described Monday as a “true American hero.”

With his son and four daughters at his bedside, Seeley, 74, died Saturday evening at his home in Dennysville of complications of diabetes. His death came within a week of the party marking his 45 years on the job as a Washington County sheriff’s deputy, an event orchestrated by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, the Maine Warden Service and the Maine Marine Patrol.

“At one point at the party, everyone who had ever worked with Lester was asked to stand,” Smith said. “And then everyone who had ever been arrested by Lester was asked to stand, and there were almost as many.

“He certainly cared about people, and, while he was strong enough to move a mountain, he was gentle enough to pick up a kitten on the side of the road to rescue it. If there’s a heaven, I’m sure Lester is already sheriff.”

Chris Gardner, chairman of the Washington County commissioners, grew up in Edmunds Township, where Seeley was born.

“It’s funny,” Gardner said. “I went from running from him as a kid to working with him as a county commissioner. He was an icon, if you will, and not only for Washington County but for the entire state. Most people in law enforcement work 20 years, or maybe 25. That type of longevity — the idea of working 45 years — is unheard of.”

Former Washington County Sheriff Joe Tibbetts regretted missing Seeley’s retirement party due to health problems of his own.

“I hated to miss it, but I figured that, after I recovered from my surgery, we would have time to spend together, just him and me,” Tibbetts said Monday, clearly distraught over the weekend news of Seeley’s death. “Now that’s not going to happen.”

The two men were close, both professionally and personally, Tibbetts said.

“I don’t know if there has ever been anyone who has tread more shoe leather in working for Washington County,” he said. “Lester and I covered each other’s backs, and, being the best of friends, we both worked together and fought together. He was always there, for anybody who needed anything, both on the job and off the job.”

David Burns of Whiting, who worked as a Maine state trooper for 24 years and is now a first-term state senator, said Monday he plans to introduce a legislative sentiment resolution to mark Seeley’s passing.

“A few years ago, Lester was named an honorary captain of the Maine State Police because of the support he always gave to troopers in Washington County,” Burns said Monday. “He was always there when you needed him, and he was a great source of information. He lived in this community since he was born, and he knew everyone.”

Seeley’s son and four daughters were busy Monday piecing together their father’s obituary. According to the son, Tom Seeley, a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at the Edmunds School gymnasium. Lester Seeley leaves behind 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

“Our phone has been ringing all weekend with calls from people who say how loyal he was to them,” Tom Seeley said Monday. “We’ve had dozens of calls from people who he arrested over the years. People liked him. I liked him, too, even though he was my father.”