Those who knew and worked with Matthew Simmons remember a man who was deeply interested in a wide variety of subjects and willingly shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with others.

Simmons, a national energy investment leader who restored the Strand Theatre and founded the Ocean Energy Institute in Rockland, died Aug. 8 at his island home on North Haven.

Simmons first came to Maine while a college student in the summer of 1963, returning many times for relaxation. In the 1990s a friend introduced Simmons and Ellen, his wife of 39 years, to Beauchamp Point in Rockport.

“We found paradise,” he said of the place he visited consistently over more than two decades.

A devoted family man, Simmons came to Maine as a summer resident and found himself staying for longer and longer periods.

Originally from Davis County in Utah, Simmons spoke of his childhood community as classic America.

“I came [to Maine] because it was comfortable,” Simmons said in a July 2009 interview. “It felt like where I grew up.”

Wickham Skinner of St. George was Simmons’ mentor and teacher at the Harvard Business School more than 40 years ago and is one of Simmons’ oldest friends in the Midcoast. A case study the two worked on became the chance occasion that introduced Simmons to the oil industry in which he became an international authority.

“I invited him to Maine to go sailing with me and my wife,” Skinner said Aug. 10. “He fell in love with the Maine Coast and the ocean. That was another serendipitous connection.”

Skinner said that connection continued after Simmons began to spend time here. When Simmons was not in the area the two kept up a lively correspondence on a variety of subjects.

Allen Fernald, president emeritus of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, met Simmons after he joined that organization’s board.

“We had a board meeting in Houston and he hosted us,” Fernald said. “He was very much involved in the Houston art scene and became involved in the same way in the Midcoast area.”

“Matt was a friend to so many people and knew so many,” said Fernald. “He loved to be with people and his friends were legion.”

“He was an amazing man of many, many interests,” Fernald said. “There was almost no subject that you could raise in discussion that Matt was not well versed in.” Not only did he offer book suggestions on such topics, Fernald said, but Simmons often knew people who were involved in the subjects under discussion.

“It started with a casual conversation and the next thing you know I’ve got a thousand pages to read,” Fernald said of one such occasion. “He read them all.”

“I’ve never known a guy who was more involved in things, even when he was running a company,” said Mac Deford, who met Simmons 15 years ago while serving on the Farnsworth Art Museum board.

“Matt was one of the most obviously innovative guys, but he really was interested in everything,” Deford said.

Deford said Simmons had an ability to discover what was fascinating about other people.

“He had insights into people that I had never seen and that always impressed me,” Deford said. “It always struck me that his enthusiasm was not about ideas but it was about people. That was what made him such an interesting person.”

Interior designer Karin Thomas saw that interest in others when she began a working relationship with Matt and Ellen Simmons that became a long-lasting friendship.

“Matt really enjoyed people at every station of life,” Thomas said. “He listened to the workmen as well as the architects and was willing to accept their suggestions.” She said Matt Simmons was generous and open to ideas and he collaborated deeply in all the projects he was part of.

The designer said Simmons used trips to Crabtree Point in North Haven, where he built a cottage as a gift to his wife, as an opportunity to share his knowledge of the history of New England and the local coastline with her.

Like his other friends, Thomas recalled Simmons’ enthusiasm and widespread interests.

“Both Matt and Ellen were very interested in art,” Thomas said. “They have a fantastic collection.”

“Matt was an excellent water colorist,” she said. “He documented their travels around the world with wonderful watercolor sketches rather than with a camera. He would send these sketches off to friends. They were really beautiful. Very accomplished.”

Simmons’ accomplishments were in part a result of his boundless energy, his intelligence and his curiosity, said Thomas.

“He was always open to suggestions and pushed for the best results and the highest standards,” she said.

John Bird remembered Simmons as an easy person to know.

“He was warm, friendly and accessible,” said Bird, who also met Simmons while serving on the Farnsworth Art Museum board.

“He was larger than life,” Bird said. “Somebody who loves life and envelopes it.” Bird said Simmons radiated his positive energy and it was contagious.

“He was a person of vision,” Bird said. “I saw that with the Strand.” Simmons and his wife, Ellen, bought and restored the old movie house on Rockland’s Main Street, reopening it in 2005 as a venue for films, lectures and live performances.

Bird said Simmons took ideas from his experiences and applied them to the situations before him.

“This man was like a spark plug,” Fernald said. “He was firing off ideas all the time.”

Skinner said Simmons’ success was due to his leadership skills.

“Leadership isn’t just making speeches,” Skinner said. “You have to have something to speak about.”

Skinner said Simmons dug deeply into anything he was concerned with and took the data and research he gathered and understood it in relationship to the larger issues at hand.

“The third aspect of his leadership was he was absolutely fearless,” Skinner said. He said Simmons faced down those who disagreed with him.

“Once he thought he was right, and he usually was, he was absolutely fearless,” Skinner said.

“That’s something to learn from him for all of us in all different walks of life from churches and YMCAs to state government,” Skinner said.

“It’s a blow to the unfinished business that he started,” Fernald said. “Those of us who’ve been involved are going to try to keep that going.”

Simmons’ friends remembered him as an adoring husband and father to his five daughters.

“He was all over the world, incredibly busy, but Matt and Ellen and the family were very close,” Bird said. “He had tremendous pride in the family.” Bird said Simmons told him the renovation of the Strand was a family project and was done for the community.

“As somebody who grew up in Rockland I so love people who fall in love with the town,” Bird said. “We don’t always appreciate it, but Matt was one of those who did.”

“His death was a terrible loss, not only for family and friends, but for the whole Midcoast community and the state of Maine,” Thomas said.

“He was great knowing,” said Deford. “I wish he was still around.”

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at