I’ve been selecting columns for a book of my favorites, written over the past 22 years for the editorial page of the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel. I just came across this column about Gene Letourneau, published shortly after his funeral in 1998. I still miss Gene. How about you?
Gene Letourneau’s last cast
The warm breeze wafting through Sacred Heart Church in Waterville last Thursday surely must have carried Gene Letourneau’s spirit to the great hunting ground beyond our imagination.
As expected, Letourneau’s funeral featured stories about fly fishing and hunting dogs, but we also heard about his musical talent, faith in God, and devotion to his family, especially his lovely wife Lou who died in 1996. The light went out for Gene then, and he began his own hike to join Lou. He’s there now, sipping that Heavenly cold clear spring water.
We are bereft, for the irreplaceable outdoor writer has left behind his canoe without so much as a wake we can ride for even a short way. His paddle dipped too quietly, I guess, for his bosses to realize the impact he was having on the people of Maine, his devoted readers and correspondents.
Gene’s daily outdoors column, titled “Sportsmen Say,” that started my day as a kid, is gone, found in none of today’s daily newspapers, still wondering why they’re losing subscribers.
I was privileged to appear in a video of reverence and praise presented to Gene at his spectacular retirement party at the Augusta Civic Center a few years ago. My remarks focused on the real magic of his newspaper column, in the section called “Chips from the blazed trail.”
It was here that Gene presented first-hand reports he received in letters and phone calls from sportsmen throughout the state, accounts of their exciting adventures, latest fishing successes, hunting prowess or simple observations of wild birds and animals.
I always felt this was the secret of his column: he let the voices of his readers and fans be heard. “Sportsmen Say.” Indeed.
Gene connected with people, whether or not they shared his passion for hunting and fishing, because he presented Maine’s outdoor traditions in their own words, kept them informed, shared his extensive knowledge (while keeping some secret ponds to himself to protect those precious resources), always in simple, clear prose.
Every day started for us with some exciting news from Gene. Even cooped up in the office, we could be transported, briefly, into the wilds of Maine. It was glorious. And it came to us every day.
Gene was the only reporter, in all the years I’ve lobbied at the legislature and attended hearings there, to be called upon by legislators to offer his views from the audience.
“Gene, what do you think?” they’d often ask in the middle of a hearing or work session. And he would, in his humble quiet voice, without rising from his chair in the back, tell them.
That would be unthinkable today: a reporter called upon at a public hearing to provide advice. Such was the respect we all felt for this remarkable man.
Not surprisingly, his advice cut to the quick, offering common sense and focused on what was right for the natural resources he cherished. He made it seem simple. And it is.
Gene often criticized the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, holding their feet to the fire for mistakes. And he saw many. He was especially harsh on the agency for spending all of its federal funds on research and staff instead of habitat purchases and protection.
First to recognize the arrival of coyotes and their horrible impact on deer, he waited impatiently for years for DIF&W to acknowledge their presence and later their impact.
I was doing well at Gene’s beautiful funeral service until his son, Fred, cast this final poem upon the water Gene now paddles.
At this time in my life, I can see the trail ends.
I’ve caught more than my limit of good times and friends.
I thank God every day for a long happy life,
For the music we made, for the love of my wife.
I’ll take down the canoe for one final trip,
And cast a Grey Ghost gently over the slip.
Let no one believe that the best days are through,
Inscribe on my stone, please, “Gone fishin’ with Lou.”
I cast a few tears for that final trip we all must take, that final cast we all can take, and for what we have lost already.
It seems impossible that we will ever again pick up a daily newspaper in Maine to read about the hunting and fishing adventures of a favorite writer and our friends and fellow sportsmen. We get occasional reports, usually in weekend papers, but nothing day in and day out.
Maine’s daily newspapers are sailing on different water today. I guess they figure the quiet waters canoed by Gene Letourneau are no longer exciting enough to sell papers. Oh, how wrong they are.
There was a lot of passion in that quiet, humble man, a sparkle in his eyes that let you know he loved every bit of his life, every song, every minute in the field. His was an exciting life, shared every day with his readers.
Hundreds of thousands of Mainers revered Gene Letourneau and doted on his every daily word. Where, oh where, will we find that daily dose of outdoor Maine now?
Kennebec Journal, July 13, 1998