Losing Charlie Doucet
When we drove across the border from North Carolina into Georgia, Charlie Doucet grinned massively, walked back into the battered old motorhome, plucked down his guitar, settled into the passenger seat, and began singing:
Georgia, Georgia –
The whole day through,
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind …
In a friendship lasting close to 40 years, Charlie and I did a lot together – so why does that moment so often come back to me? Maybe because it combines so many of Charlie’s great loves: adventure, film-making, music, humour, and friendship. We had made it to Georgia, 3000 km from home, and Charlie wanted to celebrate.
It was 1992. We were working on a project called The Living Beach, which had started with an article I wrote for Canadian Geographic. It would become a book in 1998, but in the meantime we would finance the research and interviewing by doing a one-hour special for Vision TV, and a two-hour radio series for the CBC program Ideas. In my ratty old motorhome, we drove from Nova Scotia to Florida and back, interviewing scientists, sailors, engineers, bureaucrats, surfers, tourism operators, conservationists — anyone who could shed light on the mysterious life of the beach. We had a breakdown in a Miami ghetto, got a travelling shot by driving slowly along a Florida beach with Charlie and his tripod and his camera filming from the roof, took a midnight ride on horseback among wild cows and the ghosts of pirates on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And much, much more.
We did a lot of other projects as well – industrial and commercial films for Nova Scotia companies; a documentary called The Crimson Flower of Battle about the impact of World War II on the people of Isle Madame, where I live; another called A Gift of River about New Brunswick’s magnificent Saint John River; and a third called Cape Breton’s Bras d’Or Lakes. And innumerable smaller projects.
Charlie was a huge lover of nature and a pioneering environmentalist; he and Noel built a passive solar house in Falmouth, NS, in the 1980s. He was an ardent fisherman and a devoted gardener. Professionally, he was part of the founding crew at CJCH-TV in Halifax in 1961, initially as a cameraman and later a producer/director, before he went on to found his own production company. He was later East Coast Manager for Vision TV. He was an early scuba enthusiast – the discoverer of the 18th century wreckage of HMS Tribune in the mouth of Halifax Harbour — and one of the east coast’s first underwater photographers and filmmakers. He was a painter, an art photographer and a wood carver. He played lead and bass guitar in jazz bands professionally; at the other end of the scale, he composed and performed custom advertising jingles.
I have known very few people whose enjoyment of life was so rich and various, who were so creative in so many fields, who had such a feeling for the natural world, who gave so much joy simply from their presence in one’s life. At the heart of his own life was his family, and at the heart of his heart was an elegant, beautiful woman named Noel, to whom he was married for 56 years.
When I last spoke to him a few weeks ago, he was undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and he was almost in quarantine because the chemo suppressed his immune system, making him particularly vulnerable to any passing infection. Despite cancer and the savagery of his treatments, he was still totally Charlie, full of laughter, confident he would recover, looking forward to our next meeting.
But no. Not long afterwards, during another bout of chemo, he was attacked by a superbug. He died on December 23. At sunset. He was 79. A good long life? Yes, and a long good life too. But if you want my opinion, I thought he should never die.