A Heart-Felt Adieu to Raymond DesRochers

April 27, 2010

Our friend and colleague died today. Many of you knew Raymond DesRochers. Those of you who did not, I invite to pause to hear a brief testimony from one who did. A glimpse of this man’s life is a reminder of the values and qualities that have drawn so many of us to the task of strengthening communities across Canada and beyond. His return 14 years ago to his home community of Lafontaine, Ontario was accompanied by a burning desire to contribute to the renewal of this small francophone village and the villages adjacent. His journey can nourish and inspire us as we continue our own work, wherever we are.Des

I met him in the 1980s at a workshop I was conducting in the Pinecrest-Queensway neighbourhood of Ottawa. Feisty was my first impression of this passionate man, an impression that was sustained, one of many qualities that shaped his remarkable contributions. Since this first meeting, where he talked my ear off about the challenges of rural revitalization in the county of Prescott-Russell, his story interweaves with many in our organization and in the broader CED and social economy networks to which so many of you readers belong.

I can recall as if yesterday heading out on the Log Train Trail, a 20 km railway grade that cuts through the farm I lived on for 34 years. He had come to kayak around Haida Gwaii but insisted on detouring to Port Alberni for a visit first. He wanted to talk about his future, his vision, his dream of going home, his determination to honour a promise he made to himself years before to bring to his village and region the knowledge and skills he had acquired over many years of work across the globe.

By the time we returned from several hours of intense discussion and distracted hiking, the plan he had come to hatch started to take shape. Raymond became an associate of our organization and we targeted the CED Technical Assistance Program for a grant. We got it and he proceeded to use it as seed money to organize a community development corporation controlled and owned by the francophone community, CALDECH. It may just be one of the best investments CEDTAP ever made.

Little did any of us know the marathon of struggle and sacrifice that would accompany the evolution, the trials, and the successes of CALDECH. It is a rich story that inspires and instructs. I have been pestering Raymond for years to write for us, to tell the stories, to reflect critically on the practice, to articulate the lessons in policy and institution building essential to scaling up our successes in rural community economic development.

But the years of work left Raymond little time for writing. A long, arduous fight he led to affirm francophone rights to equal access to federal resources for community economic development went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada before finally succeeding. The victory left CALDECH and Raymond with few financial resources to carry on the rest of the work. Regardless, it went on, as Raymond noted in an e-mail to me last month:
“Here, there is still a great deal of work going on in spite of the lack of resources. “The Villageois is now open [a seniors facility that serves and retains citizens in their home region, Lafontaine and the surrounding villages]. We have 65% occupancy already. We are working on securing our long-term financing and getting our staff to full complement. It has been a work of almost 12 years now; meetings every Monday evening for all those years. And a great deal of work between meetings. But it is there! It is open! People are very proud of such a community asset in such a small village.“The Festival du Loup is organizing our 8th edition this summer. Aouououououou!“CALDECH has launched yet another complaint before the Commissioner of Official languages against Industry Canada. They have responded so far by accepting to negotiate. So, it is not over till it’s over!”

It is not hard to feel the enthusiastic vitality of Raymond’s leadership. Nor is it difficult to imagine the richness of the lessons embedded in the CALDECH story. He always had the desire to do the writing and was preparing, finally, to get on with it. Indeed, we were scheming in the last couple of months on a fellowship that would give him the time and space he needed. He felt very strongly that the story of CALDECH must be documented and shared. Would it not be wonderful if someone could complete the task?

Even while struggling to build and sustain the work of CALDECH Raymond was active in several other venues. He was an early supporter, member, and sometimes critic of the Canadian CED Network. He saw a need to build francophone leadership and to build more CALDECHs across Ontario. He inspired a French-language CED curriculum, a project on which he and we worked closely together, and which he later helped deliver through Collège Boréal. And he never did stop volunteering internationally. One of his most recent forays was to help build social enterprise development capacity in Mozambique.

I hesitate to try and capture such a complex and generous spirit in words, for ultimately it is not possible. But I do want to try and express something of the wonder and inspiration his life represents to those who had the privilege of sharing parts of our lives with him.

 Raymond was an inspired grinder, a man who could not only see an alternative, but had the guts and perseverance to work away at the nitty-gritty until the vision was realized. Wherever he worked, he made things happen.

Raymond was an educator and organizer, a man who loved to engage people in discovering the rich vocation that lies in community building and in organizing people to defend their basic rights and human dignity.Des

Raymond was rooted in his culture yet had a huge capacity to cross over into the lives of people from very different places and perspectives. His work and his volunteering around the world testify to this.

Lastly, Raymond was a man with a grand sense of humour. He had a great capacity to express joy, a quality that has served him and others very well amidst much toil and no small amount of struggle.

So long Raymond. The tears are running down my face.

You came home. You gave so much to your community. You realized so many parts of your feisty dream. Even in death you are a living legacy.

We celebrate your life, dear friend … and carry on!

Mike Lewis
Canadian Centre for Community Renewal
April 26, 2010