Pushed out in the early 1980s as chief executive of M/A-COM, the Lowell-based technology business he helped build, Larry Gould found himself at a crossroads.
“You’ve got this anxiety, like withdrawal pains,” he told the Globe in 1984, when his role had changed from CEO to part-time consultant to the company.
After leaving executive duties behind, Dr. Gould saw a segment on a morning TV talk show about a camp in Georgia attended by children with cancer. That inspired him to create Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Casco, Maine, that offers weeklong stays for children with life-threatening illnesses and their family members. Over the past 30 years, 40,000 people have attended the nonprofit camp free of charge.
“If I had still been CEO I would have looked at that program and said, ‘How sad,’ and gone on to my next meeting,” Dr. Gould told the Globe in 1999, recalling the moment he saw the TV segment. “But there was no next meeting.”
Dr. Gould died Feb. 13 in Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 84 and had lived in New England most of his life.
“He was somewhere between passionate and obsessed” with the camp, said his son Martin of New York City. “He thought about it 24/7, and he could hardly talk about anything else.”
When Dr. Gould left the chief executive spot at M/A-COM, he was in his early 50s and still owned a considerable amount of stock in the company. He also owned Point Sebago, a golf and beach resort in Casco, which he had bought with others as an investment in 1968 and had owned outright since 1973.
Initially, Dr. Gould built up the resort on the Maine property. Then he and his wife, Anna, spoke with oncologists, who said a camp was a good idea not only for sick children but for the patients’ parents and siblings, who faced hardships alongside them.
The Goulds decided to offer the facilities and staff for the week before the resort’s summer season began in 1984. They welcomed families dealing with critical illnesses and arranged for medical care and counseling. During that week, Dr. Gould led discussion groups for parents and was moved by what they and their children endured.
“I knew I had to continue it,” he recalled in a 1999 Globe interview. “I had fathers coming up to me, crying and thanking me.”
He soon expanded the program to four weeks a year – two in the spring and two in the fall. As word spread about Camp Sunshine, demand grew and families were turned away, so Dr. Gould decided he could do more.
In 2001, he led the building of a new facility adjacent to the resort that is now Camp Sunshine’s permanent, year-round home. He made a substantial donation to underwrite costs and spearheaded fund-raising that paid for private suites for visiting families, athletic and activity centers, and housing for the many volunteers who staff the camp.
“Larry thought big,” said Pat Horan of Sea Girt, N.J., a Camp Sunshine board member who attended her first camp session with her husband and three daughters about 20 years ago.
“Lots of people come up with ideas, lots of people start projects,” she said. “Maybe because of his brilliance in business, Larry was able to see it through. It involved a lot of skill and management, plus the kind of perseverance that most people are just not capable of.”
Her family’s first visit to the camp was cut short by a medical emergency involving her 18-month-old daughter, Bridget, who had a brain tumor. Horan said that when Dr. Gould heard the family was leaving, he showed up in the golf cart he customarily drove around the property and brought them a lunch to take along on their travels.
People often say “what a sad place” when they hear about a camp for sick children, many of whom won’t live to be adults, Horan said.
“But it’s just the opposite,” she said. “You might see an occasional tear when an adorable child is performing. But for the most part, smiles and laughter overpower everything there.”
She learned about the camp from a flier at a Philadelphia hospital and was encouraged to go there by her daughter’s doctor. When her daughter died at 7, Horan said, she first called family members and then notified Camp Sunshine.
“That’s how much it becomes a part of why you are,” said Horan, who along with her husband, daughters, and other family members remains involved with the camp through fund-raising and volunteering. “It’s a magical place. You put all these people together, out of the hospital atmosphere, and it just clicks in a way that’s indescribable.”
Dr. Gould’s decision to launch Camp Sunshine is “an unusual story in that he never had a terminally ill child himself,” his son said. “He just connected to this cause, and then he put his whole heart and soul into it.”
Lawrence Gould grew up in Roxbury during the Great Depression. He graduated from Boston Latin School in 1947 at 16 and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a scholarship. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for scholarships,” he told the Globe in 1984. “We were lucky we had food on the table – that’s where I came from.”
He graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate, both in physics, and ended up “teaching undergraduates who were older than he was,” his son said.
Dr. Gould took a job as a research physicist at Microwave Associates in 1953. After leaving for a two-year stint in the Army, he returned to the company and was named president in 1969. By 1978, when the company had changed its name to M/A-COM, Dr. Gould was chairman and chief executive officer.
His son recalled that he and his brother, Howard, often spent Saturdays and Sundays at their father’s M/A-COM office in Burlington. Dr. Gould also had a home office, where he often worked late into the night.
“One thing you know about life is it’s finite,” Dr. Gould told the Globe in 1984, during his transition from technology CEO to creating a philanthropic camp. “I’ve got to figure out how do I best want to spend these years.”
A memorial service will be announced for Dr. Gould, who in addition to his sons Martin and Howard, also of New York City, leaves a daughter, Laurie Gould Sukoff of Summit, N.J., and five grandchildren.
Dr. Gould, whose three marriages ended in divorce, spent many winters in Florida and enjoyed cycling and traveling.
“He was an astonishing man, very active and vibrant,” said Martin, who called Camp Sunshine his father’s “amazing legacy” and added that “his passion, drive, and goals made it happen.”
Kathleen McKenna can be reached at email@example.com.