TOWNSEND -- Roy Shepherd died as he lived -- with his boots on.

The 79-year-old former town firefighter, who was hailed as "an icon of the community," was tragically killed Sunday night in an ATV accident.

Shepherd was found by his son Gary underneath an all-terrain vehicle used for farm work. The accident took place in a field on the family farm at 218 Lunenburg Road shortly before 8:40 p.m.

Shepherd received CPR at the site. He was transported to HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster where he was pronounced dead just before 9:30 p.m.

"He died with his boots on, literally," said another son, Glen.

After returning home from dinner at his daughter Sandi Gay Shepherd's house, the elder Shepherd looked around the property, checking on the chickens and "doing what he always does," Glen said.

Police Chief Erving Marshall called Shepherd's death "a tragic loss for the community."

"He was an icon of the community, which he served with devotion," said Marshall. "He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Shepherd's legacy at the Fire Department still serves the community. During his tenure, he started the ambulance service and was instrumental in bringing Advanced Life Support services into the region, said Fire Chief Donald Klein. Shepherd retired as assistant chief in the early 1980s.

Some department members who responded to Sunday night's call worked with Shepherd before he left the department. He continued to direct the ambulance service until 2001.

Shepherd and his wife Nancy received the William E. May Endowment Award in 2003. The honor is given annually for commitment and acts of kindness toward residents of Townsend. The Roy and Nancy Shepherd Senior Center, built by Sterilite Corp. for the town in 2009, is named for the couple.

"Nancy and Roy worked so hard to get a senior center," said Assistant Town Clerk Kathy Spofford.

"There's not many who know how much he and Nancy did for this town," said Russ Moore, a member of the Friends of the Townsend Seniors, which helps choose endowment award recipients.

Shepherd had a very good understanding of how things worked mechanically, said William May, the former Townsend police chief for whom the award the Shepherds won is named. He was able to combine the knowledge of machinery he gained from farming with his knowledge of emergency response. In injuries involving machinery, Shepherd was able to extricate victims for treatment.

"There's not many like him in this world," May said. "He was just the very best."

Shepherd was always busy, said friend Susan Gerken. He ran a towing service that responded to police calls and owned Shepherd's Sales and Service on Route 119.

Shepherd's work for the fire and police departments was what people saw, May said, but it was also the things people did not see that made him a great man.

Shepherd remained with Gerken at the former Nashoba Hospital when her first husband, Don Anderson, died suddenly at age 45.

"Roy was there to greet me," she said. He waited with her for the doctor, telling her to be strong.

Another friend said Shepherd purchased a plane ticket and provided cash for a local person when a family emergency required travel.

"He tried to make the world a better place, and he raised his family that way," May said.

Shepherd passed on his commitment to the Fire Department. His son Gary is a lieutenant and his son Gregg is a former firefighter.

Shepherd grew up across the road from the property where he died. He was "out in a great cathedral on a beautiful summer evening," said the Rev. Shayna Appel, chaplain for the Fire/EMS Department. The Shepherds are members of the Congregational Church where Appel is pastor. 

In addition to his wife Nancy and sons Gregg, Gary and Glen and daughter Sandi Shepherd Gay, he leaves behind many grandchildren.

The cause of the accident remains under investigation by Townsend police with assistance from the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday evening.