Montreal Gazette

Luc Henrico was director general with a hard hat

- BILL TIERNEY Bill Tierney is the former mayor of SteAnne-de-Bellevue. billtierne­

I’m not an avid reader of obituaries. It’s not my favourite literary genre. I always feel a bit morbid taking too much interest in the obit section of the paper. When I do, I find myself checking the ages of the deceased and noting that more and more of them were born in my decade, the ’40s. Eerily close.

I am so relieved to see how old some of the dead are. It’s encouragin­g.

I decided to write about this rather dismal topic because I was recently shocked to completely miss the death of a councillor colleague of mine, the brilliant and funny Jean-Louis Elie, who served on Ste-Anne council for many years. He served with wit and, occasional­ly, wisdom and, frequently, tenacity. I had a lot of fun with this brilliant, compassion­ate French teacher from St. Thomas High School. When his son sent me an email with the news several weeks after his death, I regretted that I hadn’t read his obituary. How did I miss it? Would it have helped with this rush of sadness?

No doubt there are some obituaries that are really well written, that brilliantl­y summarize notable lives: More often than not they are brief, limited in scope and discouragi­ng. I am definitely going to have to put some thought into the option of writing my own obituary, but not just yet. I don’t want it to look too calculatin­g, too self-interested. It might look like I was running for office again. Not that someone else couldn’t write a brilliant obituary for me, but I could do it with great passion and commitment, almost as if I was aspiring to a posthumous Pulitzer Prize if, indeed, they give Pulitzers for obituaries.

Obituary: is that it? Is that all you have to say? You just know that there’s always so much more to say about these fallen comrades. Take my father’s obituary, printed back in 1970. It was really quite uninspirin­g. “Serving the people of the town for 25 years as a general practition­er … accomplish­ed golfer (writer’s note: he even managed to die at the golf course after 18 holes) … an internatio­nal rugby player with Ireland before the War … father of three, leaves his widow Agnes Murphy, etc.” Written by one of his medical partners, when I look over it again it actually does have the basic informatio­n, his basic achievemen­ts, but there was so much more to say about him. But what can you do in an obituary? How much space do you have? How much do your readers want to know?

This little posthumous text is probably the last thing (maybe the only thing) you are going to read or write about this person.

And so I very recently read the obituary of one of John Abbott College’s founding directors general, Luc Henrico, the college’s main bricks-and-mortar builder. He was the director general with the hard hat on. He was the man of action who waded in to renovate the old Macdonald buildings and then sent the bill to Quebec City. He got tired of waiting for them to make decisions.

And the smile, the broad and happy smile, on this builder-athlete who looked in his office like he wanted to tie on his skates and jump over the boards. He was not a tall man but he was a stone-mason-shouldered, tough, skilful hockey player in his day. This was not the kind of man you wanted to meet along the boards, I would estimate. A man who knew where his centre of gravity was.

Henrico was a doer. He built the college and told me once that if he could remake the choice of renovating or building new, he would definitely build new. There were no end to problems with the old buildings. But when the belfry fell off the main building (now called Herzberg), you knew that Henrico could lovingly put it back up — and he did.

It didn’t surprise us that Henrico retired from John Abbott to become a manager and innovator in the constructi­on industry. And when his dementia started, so cruelly early in his life, it was sad to think of the loss to the West Island of this polished, tricultura­l man who built our CEGEP.

I close with a sentence from the obituary: “He was a devoted and loving father who guided his children to do their best, to dream big and to never give up.”

He did the same for a lot of us.

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