The man who greeted local Safeway customers with a smile for the past eight years died last week in the Tonto National Forest.
Search crews found the body of 83-year-old Lloyd Linderson about one-quarter mile from his home in Ellison Creek Estates.
"Everyone here is just in shock and very sad," Safeway manager Dave Lyons said. Linderson had worked at the grocery store as a customer greeter until a month and a half ago, Lyons said.
"He was just a nice old man," said Linderson's most recent boss, Sam Krull of Circle K in Star Valley. "He was like a big old Teddy bear."
The Gila County Sheriff's Department received a call from Linderson's ex-wife, Elta, March 31, saying that Linderson was missing.
"According to the wife, he had been staying with her temporarily out at Ellison Creek," Sgt. Terry Hudgens said. He left Tuesday afternoon, apparently to walk back to town.
Mrs. Linderson said her ex-husband had a heart condition, and shouldn't have walked into the woods.
"He had open heart surgery a few years ago, and his legs were so weak," she said.
The search Friday began at Ellison Creek Estates, where sheriff's deputies fanned out and combed the area.
"Then we called out Tonto Rim Search and Rescue," Hudgens said. While searchers were looking for Linderson, a neighbor also joined in the effort late that afternoon. The neighbor, Steven Sweet, found Linderson at 5:30 p.m.
"He was following an old logging road that runs south out of the area," the sergeant said. "It was just a matter of dumb luck that he found him, lying prone among the old Dude Fire logs."
Hudgens said it didn't appear that Linderson struggled.
"There was no obvious sign of death," he said. "There were a few imprints around his feet, which looks like he might have been standing in one spot for a time, then just fell over."
With the rain and snow that hit the Rim country on and off last week, Hudgens said, hypothermia may have been the cause of death. An autopsy was performed today (Tuesday), and the results will be released as soon as possible, he said.