Valley Lives - Louis Rompré
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 07, 2016 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Village loses a champion
by Trevor Greenway
Chris and Shawn Rompré wanted desperately to give their dad one last river trip before his time was up.
They didn't make it.
Just hours before setting sail for what would have been Louis Rompré's final voyage on the Gatineau River on Sunday, Aug. 28, the musician, candle maker, politician, father, and friend to so many in his home town of Wakefield took his final turn towards the other side, and died in the arms of his two boys after a long-fought battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
"The last goal was to get him on the river one last time and we couldn't even do that," said Chris, fighting back tears at his late father's Legion Road home.
It's only fitting that the boys tried to give their pops one final farewell on the Gatineau, the place Louis cherished so dearly throughout his life. It was always one of the first places you'd check if you were looking for Louis, and, more often than not, a quick scan across the water would usually reveal his golden moustache and the silhouette of his pony tail bobbing above his homemade 'canoemaran', puttputting to and from all his favourite inlets, coves, and creeks. And if you happened to be sitting along the riverbanks as he floated by, he likely picked you up for a cruise.
"He just felt like [the river] was a healing place to be, out there with close friends or even just with whoever happened to be there," said Shawn. "It was a shared space that was really special for him."
Louis was 59 when he died Aug. 28, but lived more than most in that time. Anybody you run into in Wakefield has some sort of Louis story - whether it was helping curate the Kaffe 1870 open mic show, touring the Gatineau at sunset, or stomping the night away at one his sons' epic birthday parties, Romprestomp.
But the one common theme that weaves all the Louis tales together is that he always made things seem attainable. The man dubbed by many the 'unofficial mayor of Wakefield' was arguably its biggest champion, not only because he loved this place so dearly, but because he somehow brought out the best in everyone lucky enough to live in his village.
"He had this embracing creative intellect that attracted people of all kinds - partiers and musicians and politicians and writers. He had friends of so many different types," said Shawn.
He gained these life-long friends by championing all things Wakefield, from curating music for Canada Day or Wakefest or making the massive snow dragon light up with his ice candles for Dragonfest. It was rare for Louis to not be at any major Wakefield happening and when he wasn't, it just wasn't the same.
"Every single cause in Wakefield, Louis was always involved," said long-time friend Andrée Grand-Maître, who worked closely with Louis on fundraising for the Wakefield Emergency Fund and other social issues. "He is the spirit, the heart of Wakefield. He was at every single event, he was part of the community centre, he was Dragonfest, he was Canada Day, and every organization and charity in between all of that."
It's this kind of communityfirst attitude that he passed along to his boys, instilling them with enough confidence to take over the world, but enough wisdom to know better. When the boys wanted to expand the very popular Romprestomp from a friends-only event into a bigger festival, Louis balked at the idea and wanted it more centred around Wakefield and the local musicians who make it so great. Growing up, birthdays were never just birthdays - they were backyard obstacle courses or giant slip and slides made from a big tarp and, eventually, Romprestomp, which became one of Wakefield's biggest party nights.
"That creativity came into our childhood," said Shawn. "Even though we didn't have much money and we were just in some small town, it still felt like everything in the entire world was possible. I think that was one of his best qualities as a dad... giving us that sense of limitlessness."
In a village full of characters, Louis stood out - not because he was the baddest mother to ever play an electric flute, or because he started Kaffe 1870's open mic night - one of the premiere places in all of the Gatineau to hear quality local live jives - nor because of his epic cookie duster moustache that puts Tom Selleck to shame. No, Louis stood out because he wasn't just a character, but a man of character, one who always had time for anyone willing to talk or listen: a reporter looking for a colourful quote, a budding musician missing a power chord minutes before their show, a friend caught in a dilemma, or a tourist frantically searching for a gas station. Louis genuinely wanted to help everyone around him and that's why it's no surprise that he did such a great job as Wakefield's municipal councillor from 2009 to 2012.
Those years were arguably the toughest, most tumultuous times the village had seen. Louis was neck-deep in debate over the threat of a sewage treatment facility spewing into the Gatineau River, the controversial development of Hwy 5 and its impact on the village's water table, the hasty arrival of Styro Rail, and the push to save Wakefield's iconic swimming rocks at the foot of the covered bridge. And while he prided himself on never being a typical politician in a suit, he did take the issues extremely seriously, giving up his weekends to host controversial meetings or brainstorm ways of landing protesters and developers on the same page. And the taxing job took its toll.
Chris recalled Louis going to the hospital immediately after a heated meeting, but added that his dad would still always show up. La Pêche Councillor Jacqueline Lambert-Madore told a crowd of over 450 at Louis's celebration of life Sept. 5 that he was, "the kind of politician we all need, but one that you very seldom see."
And while villagers may not see Louis' golden smile lighting up the Kaffe stage anymore, it won't be difficult to keep his spirit alive in Wakefield, not when a river runs through it.
"He was such a huge force," said Grand-Maître. "I think that if everybody in Wakefield keeps the light on for Louis, keeps the candle burning, we will keep that huge spirit alive."
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