SKOWHEGAN — William Partridge, of Solon, had been a loner ever since he came home from Vietnam in the 1960s, family members said Wednesday.

With long white hair and a beard, Partridge, 65, traveled around central Maine in an old 1977 GMC van that was loaded to the roof with books and magazines, knickknacks and household items.

He was a collector whose van was a familiar sight in downtown Skowhegan.

Partridge, also known as “Rusty,” died Tuesday when the van he was driving overturned on an Interstate 95 offramp in Augusta. He was alone in the van and was not wearing a seat belt.

His sister Bonny Partridge, of Florida, said she was already in Maine this week for the funeral Saturday of their mother Sclastic “Scotty” Partridge, 90, of Solon. The service was held at the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.

Now, she said, she has to deal with two deaths in the family.

Bonny Partridge spoke briefly Wednesday about her brother’s death, noting only that he was a terrific brother before he went to the war in Vietnam.

“He came back broken,” she said by phone Wednesday. “He used to love to take me everywhere with him, which is unusual for an older brother. He was a great brother until he went into the service, but when he came home he was broken.”

Jody Ross, of Wilton, a cousin, said Partridge was a quiet, laid-back man who had a couple of friends but kept mostly to himself.

“He was pretty much a collector of a little bit of everything. He turned into a loner,” Ross said Wednesday. “He really didn’t come out of his cave very much. He was a changed man after Vietnam.”

Partridge appeared to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from his stint with the Army in Vietnam, Ross said.

Police at the accident scene in Augusta on Tuesday said Partridge’s van was “fully loaded” with personal belongings, as it was each time he came to Skowhegan to meet friends and check out what was new at the Skills Inc. thrift store downtown.

Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce Director Cory King said he remembered Partridge parking his van once or twice a week beside the Chamber building in the municipal lot downtown, across from the Skills store.

“His van was just freighted with stuff, loaded with paper and boxes, just full,” King said.

Geri Kramer, an employee at the Skills thrift store, said Partridge was a nice, sweet man who was quiet but made friends easily.

“He’d always find something interesting in the store, and he would share what he knew about it,” Kramer said. “There was a painting that came in, and the frame was very old; and he was telling me about the frame, how old he thought it would be, a little bit about the artist that painted it. He really was very knowledgeable about antique things and very friendly about sharing that information.”

Kramer said Partridge was a pleasure to have in the store. He loved books and odd, interesting items that had been donated to the store.

He had a very good eye for antiques, she said; he collected nice things.

“I’ll miss him very much. I cried when I saw the news this morning,” Kramer said. “He had such a presence. He was always very polite, very pleasant. He had a good sense of humor, just a real joy to have in the store. It’s breaks my heart. I’m going to miss seeing him come in the back door.”

Kramer said the Skills thrift store had become a kind of community meeting place in recent months and Partridge fit right in, getting to know the other regular customers and catching up with what was going on in one another’s lives.

Farther along Water Street on Tuesday in downtown Skowhegan, Janice May, an employee at Russakoff Jewelers, said she remembers Partridge’s old black van as being distinctive, with swirls painted in patterns along the sides. May said she had see the van parked downtown and at Walmart and the Hannaford supermarket in Skowhegan.

“He was a tall man, long white beard,” she said. “He came in one day, and he was just looking around and said he had dealt some in antiques. He seemed to be a very nice man. His van was packed; it was packed. There wasn’t even room in the passenger seat in the front. It looked like it was packed with his whole being, his whole everything.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
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