Maury Drummond, former director of the Louisiana Naval War Memorial which includes the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum, died Sunday at 74 of a suspected heart attack, friends and colleagues said.

In 22 years at the helm, Drummond implemented many programs and exhibits which lured tourists to Baton Rouge and made the Kidd “the gold standard” for ship exhibits, said former Congressman Henson Moore, chairman of the memorial commission.

A former star on the basketball court at Istrouma High and LSU, Drummond came to the memorial from the insurance industry but had a love of history and was an avid model ship builder, Moore said.

He came aboard as the second executive director at a time when the museum had far fewer amenities.

“It was rough-going in the beginning. ... He established it as an operating museum,” Moore said. “He would scrounge money from everywhere in Baton Rouge to keep it going.”

The memorial didn’t just need a museum-keeper, it needed a promoter, said former Commissioner David Norwood. Drummond convinced veterans to donate their memorabilia, model-makers to share their scaled-down ships and naval groups in Washington to help plan the walk-through reconstruction of the USS Constitution. All the while, he found sponsors to help pay for the new offerings.

Drummond also introduced programs to bring in visitors. Children could spend the night aboard the Kidd, veterans of naval destroyers could visit and reminisce, and families could celebrate the Fourth of July at the site, Norwood said.

Drummond also raised money by convincing other ships to visit Baton Rouge. The 19th-century sailing ship Elissa came in from Galveston, Texas, and a reproduction of Christopher Columbus’s Pinta sailed into town, along with more modern vessels. Tickets to the exhibitions helped keep the memorial going, Norwood said.

That funding was important because the memorial commission was a state agency but didn’t receive state funding, the commissioners explained.

Last year, two years after Drummond retired, the Inspector General’s Office issued a report saying he spent thousands of dollars on expenses that could not be backed up with receipts or were outright illegal. The purchases included travel for his wife, meals in Baton Rouge and personal reimbursements from the commission’s account.

Moore said that Drummond treated the commission like a nonprofit rather than a state agency, meaning he occasionally didn’t follow all the rules overseeing government workers, but both he and Norwood defended the former director and said he cleared all his purchases with the board.

Current Director Alex Juan said Drummond will be remembered as “the heart” of the memorial.

“It’s a big loss for the Kidd crew. ... He was such an important piece of the puzzle,” she said.

“He’s going to be remembered for his passion for history and the Kidd.”

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.