Maj. Peter R. Hefler, USAF (ret.), a transportation aficionado and the Vineyard Transit Authority’s biggest enthusiast, died March 24 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.

Peter was born in Boston on May 22, 1940, and grew up in Milton. He was the youngest of six, and his siblings often reminded him that he got away with everything, including washing his bicycle in the middle of the kitchen.

He attended UMass Amherst under the U.S. Air Force ROTC program, and entered the Air Force as a public affairs officer in 1963 after earning a B.A. degree in rhetoric. Ne was first stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California, where he served as a general’s aide. At his next post, Mactan Air Force Base in the Philippines, his duties included escorting journalists covering the Vietnam War into active combat zones.

He returned stateside and was assigned to the Air Force’s public affairs office on Fifth avenue in New York City. A train lover since childhood, he started out in an apartment in New York City and then moved to Newtown, Conn. where he happily commuted by rail. As he liked to tell it, it led to him being “railroaded into an MBA degree.”

While traveling into New York City from Newtown, Peter completed graduate courses in business administration and earned his degree in a unique program, “Edu-Tran,” offered by Adelphi University aboard custom commuter train classroom cars. He was the first graduate of the program from the New Haven line.

Later, while assigned to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., he served as the deputy director of the community relations division in the office of the Secretary of Defense. His college degree and gift of gab served him well there. In addition to revamping and running the tours and briefings program under Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Peter conducted over 1,000 briefings himself, specifically tailored to visiting groups and organizations from all over the world. At the time it was the largest office building in the world, and he learned to walk miles backwards while escorting visitors to ensure no one was lost or wandered into restricted areas.

Peter fell in love with Martha’s Vineyard on his first visit in 1959 with his lifelong friends, Dr. Robert Franklin and his wife Grace. Later, as a second lieutenant in the Air Force, he bought a parcel of land off Lagoon Road from real estate agent Henry Cronig with $5 and a handshake to seal the deal, and a payment of $100 a month for three years. He built a home in Tisbury in 1971, with a goal to retire there.

He met his future wife, Janet Rummel, in 1978 when he headed the Air Force Magazine and Book Branch, stationed at the Pentagon, and she was the associate editor of National Defense Magazine. Their dates included many train trips, and he converted her into enough of a rail fan that at their wedding in 1979, they had an Amtrak locomotive atop their wedding cake. Kneeling at the altar to receive blessings revealed the soles of Peter’s shoes read “Am” and “Trak.” They took an Amtrak train trip for their honeymoon.

Janet moved to his home in Harpers Ferry and joined him in commuting 90 minutes each way by train into Washington, D.C. In 1982, on a day trip to New York City, their son Brien was born seven weeks early in their friend Brien McMahon’s apartment on Roosevelt Island.

After retiring from his 20-year Air Force career in 1985, Peter began a second 20-year career in public transportation management. He and his family moved to their Martha’s Vineyard home that summer where he managed the Edgartown-Katama Stage Lines, a seasonal shuttle trolley service to and from Edgartown and South Beach. He also got a commercial driver’s license and was one of the drivers, as well. That proved valuable when all of his staff left at the end of the summer before Labor Day, and he was the lone driver to provide service for the holiday weekend.

When the shuttle service ended, he took a job as a tour bus driver for the fall season. He always said the best gratuity he ever got was a steamed lobster, courtesy of a passenger who ordered a clambake dinner and didn’t like them.

Pursuing a transportation career required leaving the Vineyard once again. From 1986 to May 2005, Peter worked as the general manager of several transit operations, including a school bus management company, a regional transit management company overseeing the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority in Springfield, and airport ground transportation operations at BWI Airport and Portland Maine International Jetport. Gifted a toy bus early in his career, his collection grew to include over 600 miniature modes of public transportation, which he proudly displayed in his offices over the years, much to the delight of his son and visiting students on field trips.

Peter spent the last six years of his second career as general manager of the Greater Portland Metro. He retired in 2005 and finally realized his dream of living full-time on Martha’s Vineyard. His first order of retirement was to build the model train layout of his dreams and turning a portion of the basement into a transportation museum, featuring his bus collection, airplanes and memorabilia acquired over a lifetime spent on the road, rails, seas and in the skies.

For several summers, he worked as a ticket seller for the Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA), donning his VTA polo shirt as the gregarious “Purple People Greeter,” where he charmed tourists waiting for buses with song and jingles. He also regularly attended the VTA board meetings, as an unofficial advisor, where his experience and knowledge of the transit industry were much appreciated.

He loved all things transportation, including motor-homes, cruise ships, airplanes, buses and cars. Of his many hobbies, train travel topped the list. He rode trains all over the country, across Canada, in Italy and Switzerland, and through Mexico’s Copper Canyon. He owned many antique cars over the years, many of them 1950’s-era Packards, but his favorite by far was his 1983 Chrysler LeBaron Mark Cross Edition convertible.

Pete participated in many professional, civic and charitable organizations, including the Lions Club, Rotary Club, Air Force Association and Air Force Public Affairs Association. He served as president of the New England Passenger Transit Association (NEPTA) in 1993. In 2006 he was inducted into NEPTA’s Hall of Fame, which recognizes members who have made an outstanding contribution to the transit industry. On Martha’s Vineyard, he was a member of Vineyard Haven’s American Legion Post 257 and served six years on Tisbury’s finance and advisory committee.

He is survived by his wife Janet, son Brien and Brien’s partner Rachel Silver, and his sister Ann Williams of Southern Pines, N.C.

A celebration of life service with military honors is planned for late May. In lieu of flowers, a donation in his memory made to the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, PO Box 1729, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, would be much appreciated