During a 23-year career with the Maine Warden Service, Maj. Gregory Sanborn established himself as a hardworking professional with a passion for traditional Maine outdoor activities, colleagues said this week.
Sanborn, 47, died on Tuesday after a battle with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Calling hours are scheduled for Sunday, 4-6 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. A celebration of life will be held Monday at 11 a.m. Both will be held at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro.
Sanborn grew up in Fryeburg and joined the Maine Warden Service in 1990. He worked as a district warden in Kittery and the Sebago Lake region, then served as a warden sergeant in Calais and Lincoln, and was promoted to major — deputy chief — in 2004.
Timothy Peabody, a former chief game warden who is now an associate professor at Unity College, said Sanborn was a one-of-a-kind warden.
“He’s probably the most dedicated warden that I ever came across,” Peabody said. “Dedicated in that he just lived it. He’s the kind of guy that would sleep with his uniform on because he might get a call and have to be somewhere in 10 minutes.”
Peabody was Sanborn’s supervisor back in 1994, when Sanborn was responsible for patrolling the extremely busy Sebago Lake district. He said Sanborn’s production was at a level unmatched by any other warden in the state at the time.
“He was the type of person who would cover 600 or 700 complaints a year and document every single one of them,” Peabody said. “He was [producing] probably about twice what everybody else was doing at that time.”
When Sanborn decided to seek managerial positions within the warden service — after Peabody urged him to do so — he helped mold the future of the organization he loved.
“He knew how, as a supervisor, to bring people together and make them feel good about what they were doing,” Peabody said.
And when he eventually became deputy chief of the warden service, he found himself in the perfect job, Peabody said.
“The deputy chief is a field commander, and you could have no better person as a field commander than Gregg Sanborn,” Peabody said.
Warden Chris Dyer, who both worked and recreated with Sanborn, said his friend and colleague loved everything about the Maine outdoors … except snow and cold.
“He thought snow and cold were taboo,” Dyer said, chuckling.
But Dyer said Sanborn was a no-nonsense man who always had time to talk about the warden service and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, even when off-duty.
“He was the consummate gentleman,” Dyer said. “What you see was what you got with Gregg Sanborn. He practiced what he preached, and he was very much into the tradition of hunting and fishing and the outdoors.”
Sanborn was also a stickler when it came to “how” he would recreate. He wasn’t a fan of new, fancy gizmos, and always relied on his tried-and-true gear.
“When he went bird-hunting, he wasn’t your typical grab-whatever-you’ve-got-and-go guy,” Dyer said. “He always wore his upland jacket, crusher hat, Bean boots and carried his double-barreled 20-gauge shotgun.”
Sanborn also had a lot of catch-phrases that he always used. Most are not fit for print in a newspaper, Dyer said. But at least one is.
“It was never, ‘Did you get your limit?’ like most people would say,” Dyer said. “His catchphrase was, ‘Did you get your number, mistah?’ That was his thing.”
And when people ran into Sanborn in the field, there was never any doubt what he did for a living.
“He was a game warden 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Dyer said. “Most of the photos you see of Gregg recreating, he has his sidearm with him and he is wearing his badge.”
Warden Neal Wykes patrolled the Naples district, which is adjacent to the Sebago Lake district Sanborn covered in the 1990s.
“My first impression of Gregg was that he was 100 percent dedicated to the warden service and he totally believed in the mission that the warden service has, protecting the resource and safeguarding the safety of the public,” Wykes said. “Probably no other man I’ve come across was so driven to excel at what he did. Being a member of the warden service was pretty much the epitome of his life.”
Wykes said Sanborn was generous to a fault.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for you, and there wasn’t anything anyone could ask of him that he wouldn’t do,” Wykes said. “He was just an outstanding individual.”
Nat Berry IV, Sanborn’s lieutenant during the years he patrolled Kittery and Sebago Lake, said he was always impressed with how much work the warden got done, and how he went about that work.
“Gregg had a knack of interacting with the public and at the same time he wrote more summons and warnings than any warden before or after him,” Berry said in a quote that was printed in Sanborn’s obituary. “The amazing part was he never generated a letter of complaint.”
Warden Lt. Tom Ward said Sanborn was a great boss who wanted others to remember the reasons they became a warden in the first place.
“He worked a lot but he really enjoyed the outdoors. He encouraged us to keep on recreating, keep hunting, keep trapping, to never lose track of what we signed on to protect,” Ward said.
Ward said awards and honors didn’t drive Sanborn. Hard work did.
“He didn’t want any accolades,” Ward said. “He was doing [whatever he did] because it was the best for the warden service.”
Edie Smith, who worked beside Sanborn as the information and education director at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said his outdoor-oriented philosophy rubbed off on her.
“To me, Gregg embodied everything good about the outdoors,” she said. “His happiest moments were spent outside. For those of us who are stuck at desks, behind computers, staring at smartphones or Blackberries or tiny little screens, Gregg taught me that life can’t really be enjoyed unless you are outside. To me, that is his legacy he is leaving to our future generations. I hope that message is never lost. Go outside for Gregg.”