Josephat Florian Maisonneuve -- "Frenchy" to his friends -- set out early yesterday morning to prune a big tree in Capitol Heights before the day got hot.

He extended the ladder 40 feet into the branches and scrambled to the top, as he had done countless times.

Maisonneuve was 71 years old, but as his partner, Ronald Woods, recalled, no one would know it to watch him work.

The heavy branch at the top of the tree was stubborn, but Maisonneuve was more so. After one failed try at bringing the limb down, Maisonneuve went back up the ladder, Woods said.

"I said, 'Frenchy, when that SOB goes, it's going to go,' " Woods said. "He just said, 'We've got to get it.' "

Both men heard the loud crack as the limb splintered from the tree. Maisonneuve started to back down the ladder. But, as Woods said, "The tree wouldn't wait."

The branch slammed into Maisonneuve and knocked him 40 feet to the ground. The fall stopped his heart; the paramedics could not restart it. He was pronounced dead at Prince George's Hospital Center a short time later.

"I guess it was just his time," Woods said. "God knows he'd had some scrapes most men wouldn't have survived."

Maisonneuve left home at the age of 12 to work in the logging camps of his native Ontario and then in the gold, silver and uranium mines, said his daughter, Diane Fales. He came to the United States 40 years ago when mining strikes made work hard to find. He married and had six children.

"Strong as an ox, he was," Woods said. "I've seen him lift a wheelbarrow with five 80-pound bags of cement mix in it and never even grunt."

Six years ago, Maisonneuve "retired" at age 65 after he fell from a tree and broke his collar bone, Woods said. Retirement meant "working five days a week," running a contracting business out of his home on 69th Place in Seat Pleasant. Woods, 36, joined him five years ago as a partner.

"We swept floors and painted ceilings. We've torn them down and put them up. We've cut trees and planted trees, him and I," Woods said. "He could outwork any young man that I ever met, including me."

Last year, Maisonneuve fell off the roof of a Cape Cod house and broke his ankle, Woods said. He refused to go to the hospital until work was finished for the day; he was back on the roof the next morning, Woods said.

Monday was Maissoneuve's 71st birthday; he danced late into the evening.

"His saying always was, 'I'll do anything,' " Woods said. "And he did."