Commissioner Tom Davis shares a laugh at the end of the Penobscot County Board of Commissioners meeting, March 28, 2017.

Longtime Penobscot County commissioner Thomas J. Davis Jr. of Kenduskeag died Sunday of cancer at his home. He was 81.

Davis, a Republican, was first elected to the three-member commission in 1984. He was returned to office every four years since then.

“Penobscot County has lost one of the rocks to our foundation,” County Administrator Bill Collins said Sunday. “I not only lost one of my bosses, I lost one of my best friends. Tom was a leader who was blessed with good common sense who always looked out for those less fortunate.”

A dairy farmer and astute businessman, Davis had a reputation for making sure tax dollars were spent frugally, according to Dan Tremble, a Democrat who serves as the county treasurer and a Bangor city councilor.

“As a selectman in Kenduskeag or as a county commissioner for over 30 years or as board member for the many organizations he served, [Davis] left party labels at the door,” Tremble said Sunday in an email. “Tom Davis worked for all the people of Penobscot County and made sure there weren’t any frivolous purchases with taxpayer dollars on his watch.”

Davis took over the family farm from his father. There were few families in western and northern Penobscot County he did not know. When someone appeared before the commissioners, it was Davis’ habit to spin out their lineage and how his family was connected to the visitor’s.

He was a big man, well over 6 feet tall, with a billowing laugh and a great sense of humor, those who knew him said Sunday.

Former Bangor City Councilor Joseph Baldacci, younger brother of Penobscot County commissioner Peter Baldacci, posted an example of Davis’ humor Sunday on his Facebook page.

“Having served 12 years on the City Council and two terms as mayor, sometimes the county and city could be at odds because Bangor pays 25 percent of the entire county budget,” Joe Baldacci, a Democrat, wrote. “To that end, I always reminded Tom Davis of the time we had a city-county meeting at City Hall and we wanted the county to contribute more to what was happening in Bangor.

“Tom Davis replied, ‘We’ll do that Joe right after we take your airport by eminent domain,’” he said. “And so it went. We love you Tom.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins praised Davis for his wisdom and his wit. “He was respected for his genuine nature, his meticulousness, and his willingness to speak from the heart,” she said in a statement.

“Through his service as a Penobscot County commissioner and as a board member of the Eastern Maine Development Corporation, Tom worked tirelessly to give back to his community and improve the lives of his fellow Mainers,” she said. “Before sharing his views on a given subject, Tom occasionally prefaced his comments by saying he was ‘just a rural farmer.’ It was the values he gleaned from being a native of Kenduskeag, however, that made his opinion so highly valued and sought after.”

That was his public face. He also quietly helped many people in need, Tremble said.

“Through his public and private life, few days went by when Tom Davis didn’t help someone who needed it and many of those deeds will never be known,” he said. “He was a big believer in giving people second chances that deserved them but when they didn’t he could be heard reciting one of his many sayings — ‘Always give a man a chance for an honorable retreat.’”

Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton described Davis as “a true public servant, who quietly helped so many people. Although a large, strong man in stature, he was a compassionate, big-hearted man.”

Morton said that despite Davis’ reputation for frugality, he supported advancements in safety for county employees.

“Commissioner Davis would be one of the first people to call and check on our office, when crisis events took place,” the sheriff said. “He would most always start by saying, ‘How’s your courage?’ That simple comment, he adopted from his dad, can help any person focus during difficult times.”

During their last conversation, Morton said Davis shared a poem with him about the importance of public service and leadership.

“During that same conversation, he reminded me to make people laugh and don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself,” the sheriff said. “I will deeply miss his voice of reason, wealth of knowledge, but mostly the deep conversations.”

Funeral plans for Davis are pending with Brookings-Smith in Bangor.

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