The Rockland area is mourning the loss of the man who had hoped to make the city the heart of a new energy industry. Matthew Simmons, a longtime summer resident of Rockport, died Sunday night at a summer house on North Haven island. He was 67 years old. According to the Medical Examiner’s office, Simmons drowned. A statement earlier in the day from the Ocean Energy institute in Rockland, which Simmons created, said Simmons suffered a heart attack while using his hot tub. The Medical Examiner’s office says Simmons was suffering from heart disease, which may have been a contributing factor in the drowning.
Simmons spent his career as a leading investment banker for the energy industry. In recent years he had become prominent in Maine as well, and was a leading proponent of building large, offshore wind turbines to generate electricity for the state. Simmons had founded the Ocean energy Institute (OEI) in Rockland to pursue research into a variety of ways to produce energy from the ocean. Just three weeks ago, he announced plans to also start a for-profit side of the institute, and said he planned to raise a billion dollars in capital from investors to push the development and construction of offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine.
Through his energy work, Simmons had become an advisory to Sen. Susan Collins, Gov. John Baldacci and other state leaders. But his contributions were also local. Most notably, Simmons, his wife, Ellen and two daughters bought and rebuilt the old Strand Theater in downtown Rockland. They also created the non-profit organization that runs the theater, which has become a center of the city’s business and cultural district. He had also been closely involved with the Island Institute and the Farnsworth Art Museum, among other causes. Retired Prof. Wickham Skinner of St. George, who was Simmons’ professor at Harvard Business School, called Simmons a “born leader”. Skinner is a member of the board of the OEI, and told News center the work of the Institute should continue: “The idea of the Ocean Energy Institute is so good and so strong, I’m hoping we’ll pick it up and keep it going and find not another Matt Simmons but somebody who can do it.”