I still miss Gene Letourneau, who wrote about hunting and fishing every day for 50 years in Central and Southern Maine’s newspapers.
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, which prefer to focus on murder and mayhem, the grizzly and grotesque – while wondering why they’re losing subscribers.
John Holyoke does write about hunting and fishing for the Bangor Daily News, but not every day. And I’m sure he won’t do that for 50 years.
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. My remarks focused on the real magic of his newspaper column, in the section called Chips from the Blazed Trail.
This was where Gene presented first hand reports he received in letters and phone calls from sportsmen and women throughout the state, accounts of their exciting adventures, latest fishing successes, hunting prowess or simple observations of wild birds and animals. As a kid, anytime my Dad’s comments were in Gene’s column, we were excited.
When Dad died, I found a box at his house full of letters from Gene. Turns out that Gene wrote back to everyone that wrote to him. Dad also had an original copy of Gene’s book, Sportsmen Say, and I treasure that today.
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 morning started for us with Gene’s column. We could be transported, briefly, into the wilds of Maine. It was glorious.
Gene was the only reporter, in all the years I worked 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, 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 department for spending all its federal funds on research and staff instead of habitat 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.
There was a lot of passion in that quiet, humble man, a sparkle in his eyes that let you know he loved every minute of his life, every song, every moment 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 ever again?