John Harry Boudreau, 1947-2012
John Boudreau died on Wednesday — one of the most remarkable leaders I've ever known. In his professional life he was a teacher and guidance counsellor; in his private life he was an astonishingly gifted community animator and organizer as well as being a devoted family man. At the time of his death he was Warden of Richmond County. I had the privilege of working intensively with him in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the cod fishery, when Isle Madame was struggling to reinvent itself. His cheerfulness, energy, humour and imagination proved to be among the community's biggest assets. I am heartsick to have lost him at the age of 64.
I had the wit to write a column about John ten years ago, when he was awarded the Order of Nova Scotia, and in memory of his rich and generous life I'm reprinting it here.
SUNDAY HERALD COLUMN — September 18, 2002 [HH0236]
HONOURING JOHN BOUDREAU
In 1994-95, at the height of the crisis, John Boudreau was everywhere — chairing public meetings, writing applications, supervising community workers, encouraging entrepreneurs, negotiating with bureaucrats, raising money, travelling constantly. Yet he never took a break from his teaching position at Isle Madame District High, and he always managed a little duck-hunting, mackerel-jigging, ice-fishing. And he always had time for Viola, his first and only wife, and their two children.
He crammed 36 hours of living into every 24-hour day, and always seemed to be smiling. His energy was endless, his optimism infectious, his vision expansive. He does not suffer fools particularly gladly, and he has a fierce temper, but he never lost it.
He’s a big man, dark-haired, with a ready grin and a selection of jaunty cowboy hats which Matt Minglewood might envy. His face is vivid with intelligence. His student years at St. Francis Xavier University excepted, he has lived all his life in Petit de Grat, Isle Madame. He knows his community the way a carpenter knows the heft of his own hammer.
The crisis of 1994-95 was the collapse of the ground fishery, on which Isle Madame had relied for nearly 300 years. By 1993, the fishery had already been closed in Newfoundland. Clearly, it would soon close in Nova Scotia. The loss of the fishery would eliminate 500 jobs — fully one-third of the island’s work force. An astute group of island residents gathered to consider a response — the manager and union president from the fish plant, other educators, professionals, businessmen and community leaders.
Their chairman was John Boudreau. They became the Industrial Adjustment Services Committee, eventually transformed into Development Isle Madame. They publicized the issues, hired consultants and polled the community — and when the fishery did collapse, they rebuilt their island’s economy, meeting by meeting, job by job, project by project.
No detail was too small. When the island’s community-owned TV station, Telile, was converting an old restaurant into a studio, it needed a wall built. Next morning, the wall had appeared, apparently by magic.
“I got Theophile Samson and his guys to do it,” John chuckled. “Cost me five ducks.”
“I always love to see John Boudreau coming in the door,” remarked Louis Digout, the chief administrative officer of Richmond County. “The big companies come in and ask for millions, and they say they’ll maybe create some jobs. John Boudreau comes in and says, ‘If you give me $5000, I’ll put three people to work’. And he always does.”
Development Isle Madame and its partner organizations created 460 jobs in five years, becoming a nationally-renowned example of community resilience. And no, John Boudreau did not do this alone. The community did it. But it could hardly have been accomplished without John’s relentless determination and visionary leadership.
Here is the thing about John Boudreau. He is one of the most astute and gifted men I have ever met. He could have been anything he wanted — professor, ambassador, cabinet minister, CEO. What he chose instead was a life of service in his own rural community.
A splendid teacher, he kept himself fresh by going back to university every summer, preparing to teach new subjects, switching from business to math to science to social studies. He spent his last nine years as a guidance counsellor, winning an award from the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union for developing a self-esteem empowerment program for junior high school students. He retired last June, at 55.
But his agenda went far beyond the schoolroom. Though his mother was a teacher, his father was a fisherman, and John has vivid memories of being dropped off in a dory before daylight at the Charlie Foxtrot sea buoy off Chedabucto Bay, jigging cod alone while his father and the crew went on out to sea. He was nine. He never lost his fascination with the fishery, and over the years he served on innumerable fisheries-related boards and committees. In 1984-85 he took an unpaid leave of absence from teaching to manage the Isle Madame Fishermen’s Co-operative full-time, reviving it from bankruptcy. He brought the same financial savvy to the affairs of St. Joseph’s, the local Catholic parish.
He coached baseball and hockey teams for adults as well as youths. He is a certified hockey referee. He chaired the Richmond Housing Authority, the Richmond Aquaculture Development Corporation, the Richmond Wildlife Association, the Richmond County Industrial Commission and the Isle Madame Investment Co-operative, which inaugurated the first operational community investment fund in Nova Scotia.
When the government announced a new Order of Nova Scotia, Isle Madame nominated John Boudreau. And the committee, bless them, selected him. You wondered who that was, in there with such luminaries as John Savage, Anne Murray and Daniel Paul? John Boudreau, BBA, BEd, ONS. No honour was ever more richly deserved, and none could have given more delight.
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