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Charles Rocheleau 1913 - 2014

Charles Rocheleau

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March 31, 2014
I omitted key family facts: Charlie's mother Alma and her sisters Eva and Alida all had the Granger surname when born. The Grangers were Acadians, expelled from what is now Nova Scotia, in 1755. Charlie's Granger ancestors first came to Massachusetts, stayed for two generations, then moved to Quebec, to a community called L'Acadie, later returning to Massachusetts. I read a Worcester City Directory from the 1840s that listed a John [no doubt Jean] Granger. A family member reportedly served in the Civil War, I think as an aide to an officer, but I have not found documentation for that.

So Charlie and the rest of the descendants of H. Oscar and Alma V. (Granger) Rocheleau have had ancestors with many years of residence in the United States, to well before the Revolutionary War.

We dined at a Worcester restaurant called The Sole Proprietor several times. He knew one of the owners. Once, two people came to our table to talk to Charlie. How they knew him, I do not know. He got around in Worcester, while visiting his siblings and their children. He had long lived in Alexandria and then at Straithmore Farm in West Virginia, but somehow kept current with, and wanted to keep current with, his boyhood home and all his relatives.

What a joy and an honor for all who knew him as friend. He was a relative to many, but a friend to many, many more.
March 28, 2014
I may not have known Uncle Charlie very well but from all the stories that my Grandmother(Louanne Rocheleau)and father(George Stockwell) have told me over the years he was amazing and inspirational!
March 27, 2014

I cannot speak for others, but hope I do: David's reminiscence is remarkably well done: well-written, with much enlightening detail, and with the sense that others likely had, that Charlie was a charming man of mystery.

It may not be appropriate to provide another long commentary, but I will. Something on the naming of family members may be in order. My mother Alida was close to her sisters Alma and Eva. I saw somewhere that Alida and Eva performed in a play (as did many others) written by Charlie's aunt, Corinne Rocheleau Rouleau.

Once, while visiting Anne Rocheleau, David's mother, at the Briarwood in Worcester, Anne showed me a book that Corinne had written. Corinne wrote in a style most definitely not influenced by Ernest Hemingway or journalism, with many complex sentences, as a quick look into the book indicated. That style suited the opening description of the St Lawrence River. As the sentence rolled, line after line, one concluded she had tried to recreate the steady, pulsing power of the river through the style of her periodic sentence. It must have gone on for 20 lines.

Anne said the book had been translated and showed me a copy. It is no pleasure to be critical, but the translation reflected nothing of Corinne's style. Its short, choppy, unadorned sentences seemed suited to a reader for students in the third grade of grammar school, or maybe earlier, but without the schoolbooks' charm.

I have looked for the French original and have failed to find it. I know the family has good writers. It should be a pleasure to translate the work, though time-consuming, and disseminate it privately, something like the Russian samizdat, since the translator, who dared to call herself the translation's co-author, apparently has the rights.

The Granger genealogy that my cousin Virginia Granger-Gagnon (granddaughter of Alma's brother Élie Théophile, a/k/a Tom) and her husband Richard Gagnon produced noted that Alma and her siblings had a brother, Alfred Louis, who died shortly after birth in 1884.

I have no doubt that Alma honored him by naming one of her sons Henri-Louis and another son, Charles Alfred Rocheleau. The first children of my parents were twins. Joseph E. Lemire Jr. was given to the older one (by a few minutes). On the other, my mother ruled, and she named him Louis Charles. The Louis? Well, her brother and her nephew. The Charles? The source of David Charles, too. I was the last in line of her children. I got the Alfred. I would have liked the Charles.

One hopes that further generations of the Rocheleaus continue the Charles name. I did not visit Charlie because I was busy with work, then was forced into retirement by a heart attack, and I hate to drive. But it is gratifying to know that many relatives did visit him, gaining from their visits, as he surely gained from the satisfaction of being an excellent, charming, and sophisticated host. He introduced me to créme de menthe at one of the places where he lived in Alexandria, back in the days, I think, shortly after my graduation from the University of Maryland. Did I mention sophisticated?

I wanted to see him again in West Virginia last year, but worried about the strain of the travel and the cost and an 18-yer-old car. Now, well, too late, but it was a great pleasure and a privilege to spend time with Charlie on many occasions over the years. Oh, one other thing.

Perhaps in 1939, when I was 5 years old, my mother and her family visited Alma and H. Oscar and their family, for a Thanksgiving dinner at the sheriff's residence. Everyone at the longest table I have ever seen was served a small glass of wine, except for me and perhaps Pierre, Charlie's brother. I said I wanted to try the wine. People said that I was too young. Bur I distinctly recall Charlie being present , sitting close by, and saying, “Let him try a little.” I did. I did not like it. Not one bit. And Charlie smiled, in a friendly way, when he noticed my reaction, which he alone had expected. My next glass of wine came when I visited Charlie, maybe 24 years later. That came with our meal together. The superior wine he chose? No wine, except for an Alsatian pinot noir, has tasted so good.
March 25, 2014
Some people have a huge impact on your life. For me, Uncle Charlie was one of those people. He was always interested in what I was doing and where I was going in my life. We always had discussions about big things - politics, religion and of course our family. He knew everyone's secrets and always had an opinion to share. My father used to say that you could talk with Uncle Charlie all day and not knows a thing about him at the end of it but he would know everything about you.

When I was 17, I traveled to Washington D.C. with a high school friend to visit colleges with Uncle Charlie. We stayed in his house in Alexandria and over three days visited Georgetown, American University, University of Virginia and Shepherdstown College. We met several of his friends and I got a sense then of what a remarkable person he was. I had known him as my uncle who traveled to far off postings but never had a real sense of much else about him. During my trip to Washington I remember meeting his real estate agent at a café in D.C. who told me that my Uncle Charlie was a “very important and influential person.” He was from South Africa and told me that had met Uncle Charlie there during the war and that they were old friends. There were a lot of those kinds of people in Uncle Charlie's life; presidents, diplomats, generals and famous celebrities. He had seen it all and done it all.

Later during my aimless college years, I would visit him at the farm. It was my opportunity for catharsis, away from my parents and problems with school or girl friends. He knew my backstory but guided me to find the right answers about myself. And as always, Uncle Charlie was cheerful and optimistic. During my visits we'd drive around to the far reaches of the county to see his latest restoration project or some interesting historical building or we'd just hang out and talk about politics, current events or some unfolding family drama. We'd swap stock tips and he'd tell me about his latest crop plans. He was interested in everything and everyone. Afterwards we'd go out and have a meal and a beer somewhere. It was pretty close to heaven.

While at the farm I'd help out feeding the cows, painting the roof of the smoke house or doing chores. He'd always get on his tractor or just jump in the car, swing the gate open to take a tour through the fields while showing off his herd of cows or the progress of that year's crops. We'd always go out dinner to one of his regular restaurants. He'd pay the bill with a check and then we'd take off. He always had checkbooks for five or six different banks in his car's glove box and would ask me to find a particular one. I would marvel how he could ever keep his finances straight. We'd meet interesting friends or distant relatives at breakfast or dinner or just stop by somewhere for a chat: physicists, military men, diplomats or local farmers and tradesmen. He knew everyone and their backgrounds and everyone knew him. I could always sense that whomever we met respected him for his integrity and intellect. Who wouldn't want to be like Uncle Charlie.

After Kathleen and I got married he'd pop in when he was in town and often stayed at our house. We'd get a call in the middle of the day to say he was coming up on the train or he'd just show up at our front door in the evening in a cab. We also visited the farm with the kids several times. He was in his glory with them there, feeding the cows with them, giving them rides on the tractor, spoiling them with treats or taking us all to see Luray caverns. In many ways he became the grandfather that my kids never had and he never forgot their interests. They'd receive handwritten letters from him in the mail, or musical instruments he'd bought at auction or books on astronomy or science he thought would interest them. He also shared a special bond with my Kathleen in their love of books, their love of reading and of course their Canadian heritage. Theirs was a special understanding. Whenever he came to family events, he'd talk with Kathleen's mother in French or just share observations about events happening in Canada or insights about the separatists there. When I traveled for business, he gave me pointers about what to see and he'd share stories about his own experiences. I learned that there are great vineyards across the Rhine River from where I was staying in Bonn Germany and that we had both visited the same tea plantation in Hangzhou China.

But after Dad died he also became a tangible connection with my father. He'd tell me stories about their growing up together and their experiences in Worcester with their own family and through him and I got to know my father in a much different way. I found out how important his relationships with his family were to him and how hard he worked for his sisters, brothers and parents. I had known all of that, but I saw it all from Uncle Charlie's point of view. I got to see him through the eyes of his brother and understood the close bond they both shared as well as the strength of their extended family. When I visited him on his 100th birthday last year, he was frail but in remarkably good spirits. You can see the laughter in his eyes in the photos. We had a great visit and shared a lot of laughs together. I appreciate more than ever what he has meant to me and to my family. Rest in peace Uncle Charlie.
January 30, 2014
Uncle Charlie was everyone's favorite uncle—certainly, he was mine. He led, what appeared to me as a child, to be a glamorous life—sophisticated, handsome dressed in his Navy uniform, travelling to places all around the world, doing work that would always remain secret, popping into our lives with no notice, and leaving as quickly as he had arrived. He would always have a drink, and share deep conversation with our Dad. He loved learning and his knowledge of history—especially family, French, Civil War and Chinese—was prodigious. He was the family historian connecting us to family members we would never have known otherwise. Most of his nieces and nephews have personal tales of trips with Uncle Charlie—taking 10 hours on a trip that would normally take four--going out of the way on some back road to stop unannounced at a distant relative's house to say hello and have a drink. At the time we were embarrassed, but we are all the better for having had the time with him.
We all knew that he had been an active participant in t world events that fill our history books—China, Germany, France, Vietnam, the Pentagon. In my home today is a Chinese rug that was given to him by Lieutenant General Claire Chennault of the Flying Tigers in thanks for something that we will never know. Uncle Charlie knew how to keep secrets.
After his retirement from the Pentagon and his move to the farm, Uncle Charlie embraced a completely different life with his cows and the farm and the people of West Virginia. It was fitting that he purchased a historic home and that over fifty years in Charles Town he developed deep friendships. His friends were extremely loyal, and they repaid his kindnesses with kindness of their own. Our family will be forever grateful to Richard Buraker, Kevin Wiester, Carol Greesom and many others for their care and support of Uncle Charlie over the past several years.
Uncle Charlie was an extraordinary human being who lived life to the fullest. I am grateful that many of us were able to celebrate his 100th birthday with him in Charles Town last April—a celebration filled with good wine, good food and a lot of laughter. On April 2nd, wherever I am, I will raise a good glass of wine and toast his memory. Rest in Peace, Uncle Charlie.

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