When Gary M. Simard drowned last week while trying to rescue his son from a rip current, he was in the midst of realizing a dream, creating for his four children the same fond memories that he had of family vacations at Salisbury Beach, his sister, Kelly Simard, said.
This was the second year that the 44-year-old father who lived in Methuen had been able “to carry that tradition on for his family,” Kelly Simard said, and it was during a final family swim after a two-week stay when tragedy struck.
“He was giving his kids one last day at the beach before they left,” Kelly Simard, of Haverhill, said in a telephone interview on Saturday. “They were packing up. It’s just terrible the way he died.”
Simard and two bystanders rushed into the water Wednesday afternoon when they saw the current pulling his son away from shore. The bystanders were able to rescue the boy and return to shore, but they could not find Simard, officials said.
Emergency responders found Simard unresponsive in the water about 75 yards from the beach. They brought him back to shore within a few minutes and began performing “advanced life support medical care” before he was taken to a hospital in Seabrook Beach, N.H., where he died, officials said.
Gary Simard, the middle of three children, was born and raised in Haverhill and graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1997, according to his obituary. He began his career working in the family business, Simard Gas and Oil Company, before turning to auto sales. He was a finance manager at MINI of Peabody when he died.
He “lived his whole life for his family,” his “loving partner of 15 years, Alexis T. Wronski,” and their four children, ages 6 to 13, according to Simard’s obituary and a GoFundMe campaign organized by Simard’s sibling.
Kelly Simard said her younger brother savored childhood memories of staying in a beach cottage at Salisbury Beach each year and yearned to replicate that for his children.
“He just wanted to make life exciting for his kids and build memories and traditions,” Kelly Simard said. “He worked so hard to be able to carry that tradition on for his kids, so they would have the same excitement we had when we were little.”
Gary Simard’s younger sister, Lindsey Gentel, of Haverhill, said “he loved being a dad.”
“Anytime he talked about his kids he was always smiling,” Gentel said in an email. “We are just completely heartbroken over this and will miss him terribly. He is a true hero in my eyes. His bravery and selflessness is something I will never forget.”
Simard was an outgoing fan of the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots and loved taking his family to games or bicycling with them in the park. He enjoyed fishing trips with his co-workers or a play day at Foxwoods Casino. He was a joker, who also could be a “homebody,” and “he loved my mom’s cooking,” Kelly Simard said.
“Gary will be missed so much by everyone who knew him,” his parents, Gary J. and Linda Simard, also of Haverhill said in an email. “He will always be remembered as a hero for his act of bravery in saving his son’s life. We will forever cherish all the good times and memories with him.”
Calling hours will be held at Kevin B. Comeau Funeral Home in Haverhill on Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. Funeral services will be held afterward.
Two other parents drowned in separate incidents last month while trying to rescue family members.
Melissa Bagley, a 44-year-old mother of four from Lynn, jumped into the water to try to help her 10-year-old son who had slipped on a rock and fallen into a swimming hole at Franconia Falls in Lincoln, N.H., on Aug. 15.
Her child was rescued, but the current swept Bagley away, authorities said.
A Lawrence man died just days later, on Aug. 20, trying to rescue his child and the child’s mother from a strong current on the Swift River in Albany in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Vincent Parr, 37, jumped in to help them but was quickly caught in the current himself, State Police said. Other people helped the mother and child to shore.