WATERVILLE — Bill McKay was a savvy businessman, an accomplished pilot and a dedicated family man, say people who knew and worked with him.

McKay, who died Tuesday when his Cessna 185 seaplane crashed near Lake St. Pierre, Quebec, was perhaps best known locally for his affiliation with Caswell’s Liquidation Center on Armory Road where he was a part owner of the business for 32 years until 2008.

Caswell’s vice president, Dwight Leighton, expressed shock and sadness at the loss of his friend and current business partner in other ventures.

“I can’t believe it,” Leighton said Wednesday in his office at the Caswell’s store. “Poor Brenda, his wife. They were a very, very close family. Thank goodness his daughter and her husband survived. They went up there with him a lot.”

Leighton, 51, was referring to McKay’s daughter, Katie, 34, and son-in-law, Mike Turner, 45, who were with McKay in the plane Tuesday on a fishing trip. The Turners, who were injured, hiked to a gravel road after the crash and were picked up by forestry workers.

Leighton said McKay, 68, had built a cabin in Quebec with five other friends, most of whom were pilots, and they would go there together to fish. Leighton himself had flown to the cabin with McKay several times and said McKay was an accomplished pilot who started flying many years ago while in the U.S. Navy.

McKay loved fishing and flew to Quebec to fish every chance he got, according to Leighton.

“He’d been up there several times this summer,” Leighton said. “I was up with him and it’s fantastic. He loved it up there. He was doing what he loved to do.”

McKay had a lot of friends and regarded his family as everything, according to Leighton.

“He was just a wonderful family man,” he said. “He lived life to the fullest. He loved his grandkids.”

The cause of Tuesday’s crash is unknown. Asked if McKay possibly had a medical condition that could have contributed to the crash, Leighton said he was unaware of one, but he recalled that McKay had a carotid artery cleared out three or four months ago and was cleared to fly after that.

“Bill’s the type of guy that wouldn’t take a chance. He went by the book,” Leighton said. “I don’t know what happened, but something didn’t go right.”

Federal Aviation Administration records indicate that McKay had received a medical clearance required by his license.

At Caswell’s store Wednesday, the mood was somber as employees remembered McKay and were trying to make sense of what had occurred.

“Bill’s a great guy,” said Kyle Paradis, 25, Caswell’s manager/buyer. “I started here when I was 16. He did everything he could to help me. He helped me step up.”

McKay’s death was the second blow the business and its employees have suffered in just more than a year. In April 2013, business owner Dana Caswell passed away.

Caswell’s daughter, Theresa, who is married to Leighton, now owns the business. Leighton said McKay was part-owner for 32 years until 2008. When Dana Caswell closed the Caswell’s store in Lewiston, he gave the building there to McKay, according to Leighton. At the time of McKay’s death, McKay was leasing out space in the Lewiston building to other businesses, including a flooring business, Leighton said.

McKay owned many properties locally and in other parts of the state, according to Leighton, who, with McKay, owns a mall in Auburn that houses Buffalo Wild Wings and other restaurants, a U.S. Social Security office, a weight-lifting business and other retail businesses. McKay owned storage warehouses in central Maine, including a facility on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield that stores paper for Sappi. McKay also owned several buildings in Lewiston.

“He was an unbelievable businessman,” Leighton said.

McKay’s children have followed their father as small business entrepreneurs.

McKay’s daughter and son-in-law, the Turners, own Waterville Home Oxygen. McKay also has a son, Cameron McKay, who owns No Limit Custom Ink LLC in Fairfield.

Meanwhile, Oakland pilot John Brier, who has a plane and hangar at Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport, as well as a plane in Florida, said he knew McKay very well and is saddened by the loss.

A commercial pilot for 30 years for Continental Airlines before retiring in 2001, Brier recalled meeting McKay around 1970 after he taxied a plane into the Waterville airport and was approached by a young, clean cut man wearing a leather U.S. Navy flight jacket. It was McKay.

“He was just out of the Navy and wanted to know if we were hiring pilots,” said Brier, who was then flying for Executive Airlines, which later became Air New England. “We weren’t hiring, but I believe he went to work as a flight instructor for Heart of Maine, the FBO (fixed base operator).”

Brier, now 73 and a former U.S. Navy pilot himself, said McKay was a very nice guy who was loquacious and always sported a smile.

“I’m sure his family is really going to miss him,” he said. “Bill was a very, very well-liked guy. He was a hard worker. He was Dana (Caswell)’s partner for 32 years. I remember going up to their office (at Caswell’s Liquidation Center), and they were both busy on the phone. I don’t know anybody who knew Bill that had a hard word for him.”

McKay’s death was particularly sad for Brier, who said he had lost two other friends in float plane crashes.

“Today when I heard about a float plane crash, my first thought was Bill because he goes up that way (Quebec) a lot and he has a cabin,” Brier recalled. “He just was a great guy. All the pilots liked Bill McKay. He always had a firm handshake and a big smile.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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