Michael Simpson of South Portland, a devoted father who worked at his family’s hardware business in South Portland, died early Friday after a 13-year fight with brain cancer. He was 41.

Simpson was remembered by his family this week as an extraordinary father who made an impact on many people throughout his short life.

Michael Simpson and his daughter, Rosie, 8. Photo courtesy of the Simpson family

Simpson began working at Shoppers True Value Hardware in the Mill Creek Shopping Plaza in 2005. He was a fixture at the paint counter and always made time for customers, said his sister, Jessica Simpson of Cape Elizabeth.

“The customers loved him because he was so patient and kind and willing to help,” she said. “We’re all feeling the loss at the store. … I just keep looking for him at the paint counter. It’s this weird reality that he’s not going to be there tomorrow. It’s still not real to me.”

Simpson worked alongside his father, Thomas Simpson, owner of the iconic hardware store since the early 1980s. He also worked with his sister and their mother, Madeleine Simpson, who died in 2011 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

His sister expressed gratitude Sunday night for the years she worked with her brother and parents. She said her brother’s passing is an immense loss to the store and community.

“I used to say everything happens for a reason. Now, I say you are given what you can handle,” Jessica Simpson said. “I don’t know why our family has been given all this tragedy, heartache and hardship. Times like this remind me of the strength of this community and how much support we have behind us. … As devastating as this is, I know my brother is exactly where he needs to be with our mom.”

Simpson grew up in Cape Elizabeth and graduated from Cape Elizabeth High School in 1997. He earned an engineering degree at the University of Maine.

Jessica Simpson reminisced about her brother’s years at UMaine and the strong friendships he had. She said they lived on the same floor for one year in college. By senior year, the siblings got together once a week for dinner, she said.

“He was the life of the party,” his sister said. “He was the easy-going, kindest and most generous person. He would do anything you asked and was always willing to lend a hand or do a favor, expecting nothing in return. He was that gentle giant. He was a protective big brother, big time. Yeah, it didn’t help my game.”

In December 2005, after briefly working as an engineer, Simpson returned to the family business.

A month later, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He underwent surgery and remained in remission for seven years, but in 2013, his cancer returned as a glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. In April, doctors gave him eight weeks to live. His sister said he fought so hard for so long.

“In April, he said to me, ‘This is okay. I’m ready. I’m tired now,'” his sister recalled. “He fought a lot of years, and he gave us so many more years than we should have ever had, which we’re all grateful for.”

The highlight of Simpson’s life was being a father to his 8-year-old daughter, Rosie. He was the type of father who would sit for hours and build a Lego fortress with his daughter. Pictures on Facebook show Simpson pushing Rosie on a tricycle and lifting her high in the air. A video shows them singing together, swaying My Little Ponies back and forth to the music.

“Rosie was what brought his sparkle back,” his sister said. “The softness in him came back. He adored her as much as she adored him. When the two of them were in the room, that’s all there was. She could make him laugh like you wouldn’t even believe. They had this fun, light-hearted, snuggly father-daughter relationship, which I think is so important considering his diagnosis.

“Obviously, she misses her daddy. She knows that he’s not hurting anymore,” she continued. “She has so many great memories of her dad. I think that’s the most important thing.”

On Saturday, the day after Simpson died, Rosie was climbing the rocks at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth with her mother, Laurie Shannon of South Portland. On that day, the waves were big and the wind was gusting hard.

“Rosie said to me, ‘I can feel daddy in the wind’ on her face,” Shannon recalled. “I said, ‘You’re right babe. You can feel him anywhere you go. He’s always, always with you.’ As an 8-year-old, she has this innocence that allows her to not just hear that, but believe it. And she believes it.”

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