I find this column hard to write, because in doing so I have to say goodbye to a pair of familiar faces – one on a local scale, the other at a national level – who touched me, and countless others, with the dignity and gentility that they each brought to their daily lives, in and out of the public eye.
The first, Lorenzo Boudreau, was a dedicated historian who took such a keen interest in municipal affairs that he attended as many Richmond County council meetings as possible over the past 35 years. The second, Stuart McLean, started his CBC career as a hard-hitting journalist but redefined himself during the past quarter-century as the man behind The Vinyl Café.
The two men passed away within 24 hours of each other last week, each leaving a wave of sadness in their wake.
I got to know Lorenzo during my years of covering Richmond council for various media outlets, and the World War II veteran and former Arichat garage-owner rarely failed to give me a warm greeting. Whether he was the only person in the public gallery – which, believe it or not, happened more often than you might expect prior to 2015 – or one of dozens at the municipal building in Arichat, I never received anything but respect, thoughtfulness and outright kindness from Lorenzo.
With just over 900 council meetings under his belt, Lorenzo earned the respect of Richmond officials, even on occasions when he didn’t agree with them. In 2002, the county recognized Lorenzo’s devotion to local affairs by awarding him with a plaque naming him an “Honorary Councillor, Without Voting Privileges.”
I visited him at his Arichat home in 2009, as he was finishing up his research for a bronze plaque that would feature the name of every single Richmond County councillor since the incorporation of the county in 1879. Lorenzo’s basement office was full to overflowing with binders listing the genealogical history of hundreds of Isle Madame families, a hobby dating back nearly four decades.
That visit came just over five months after I got a chance to talk to Stuart about his remarkable evolution from fearless news reporter to affable, self-deprecating storyteller. And, just like Lorenzo Boudreau, it turned out that Stuart McLean was passionate about his Cape Breton roots, but in a more roundabout way.
While Stuart was born and raised in Montreal, his in-laws hailed from the Sydney and Glace Bay areas. The Vinyl Café series pays tribute to this Maritime lineage, with its central character, record store owner Dave, originally hailing from rural Cape Breton. (The fictional community was originally named “Middle Contrition” but morphed into “Big Narrows” as the series progressed.)
When I asked him about this, just prior to his first-ever visit to Port Hawkesbury, Stuart lamented that he couldn’t spend much more time in Cape Breton, partly to further Dave’s back-story but mostly because of the author’s own affection for the region and its people.
“There’s a certain level of comfort in one’s skin that you feel when you meet people from down east,” Stuart declared at the time.
“There’s a feeling of rootedness, of connectedness to the ground, and there’s a connection to the outdoors and to simpler things in life without the false ambitions of consumer society. It’s different down there – there’s something about the values of family, of the tide of history and the past that I feel comfortable with and I feel drawn to.”
Apart from their love of history and community, Lorenzo and Stuart also shared one other unforgettable trait – the ability to draw me in with their voices.
No matter what situation we happened to find ourselves in at the Richmond Municipal Building, I always knew that if Lorenzo had something to say, a hush would fall over the crowd and everyone would listen. He wasn’t the sort to waste his words on flowery speech or fiery rhetoric – he got right to the point, making it impossible to turn away.
Stuart’s voice was a different creature – deliberate, earnest, occasionally prone to over-enunciation, but always capable of giving an extra layer to the simplest of phrases. Cathy and I were listening to one of his Vinyl Café stories on a CBC Radio tribute that aired the day after Stuart passed away. We marveled at how he made even the shortest of sentences – “She was nice,” coming out of the mouth of Dave’s son Sam – count, with each word seeming to carry its own special meaning.
The world – including the smaller world of our own communities – is getting progressively angrier. Negativity fills our daily conversations, newspaper headlines, and social media feeds. Nobody seems to value gentlemen anymore.
No wonder I’ll miss people like Stuart and Lorenzo.