Saturday, February 17, 2007

Edmund Ladouceur, one of my heroes

The last news article to attract my attention in today's Gazette announced the retirement, again, of one of the true heroes from my youth.

Edmund Ladouceur was the director of the Cadet Catholic Choir at the USAF Academy and probably one of the reasons I survived that four years. Every Sunday morning, and one night during the week when we would practice between the evening meal and Academic Call to Quarters, I shared the pleasure of his company with the rest of us who were fortunate enough to call him, simply, "Mr. L."

I came late to Mr. L's fold, having been reared a Lutheran in a part of North Carolina where there may have been one Catholic church in the whole county. I sang in choir from the time I was seven until I left for Colorado. Once there, I immediately joined the Protestant choir. I spent two years in that choir, singing every Sunday for a "non-denominational" Protestant service that didn't really much resemble what I was used to. But the setting was beautiful (the Cadet Chapel was once the most visited architectural landmark in all of Colorado; pictures here) and singing was my chosen mode of worship back then, so I was happy enough.

Then, during one evening rehearsal, the Protestant choir director threw a mini-temper tantrum not much worse than many others we'd learned to take in stride. The difference this time was that a particularly gentle-spirited soprano--on whom I had the kind of crush that just watching her elfin face from a distance was enough to make another week at The Blue Zoo tolerable--did not take that tantrum in stride. She walked out of the rehearsal. She didn't come back. Not to Protestant service and not to choir. In a supporting action, the exact motivation of which we won't begin to dissect here, I quit as well. But, for us both I suspect, choir was, as I said above, the way we worshipped. A couple of weeks later, I learned that she had joined the Catholic choir. "Why don't you?"

Catholic? Me? Uh, isn't that in Latin? It seems funny now, but remember, I wasn't yet even 20, and I don't know if I'd ever been within five hundred yards of a Catholic church before arriving in Colorado Springs.

So, one Sunday, I sort of snuck in the back to see what a service was like, fearing at the time, I think, that I might be captured and sacrificed before the service was over. It was like coming home. The service was much more like the Lutheran service I had grown up with than anything I'd seen in almost two years upstairs (the Catholic population at the Academy being smaller, the Catholic chapel is one floor below the much larger Protestant space). Having made that first step, I next found the courage to ask the Catholic Choir Director, Edmund Ladouceur, a man my father's age, if, perhaps, I might be allowed to audition for the Catholic choir. The rest, as they say, is history.

But it is history that literally mists my eyes even as I type this. I have never known a kinder man in my entire life. He was like my own father in that regard. And for the next two years, if I needed a fatherly ear in that era when a call from Colorado to North Carolina cost enough that I only made them every other week, Mr. L. was always happy to provide it--for me or for any of the hundreds of us who, through the years, have found ourselves so fortunate to owe him so much.

The happiest moments of my four-year career as a cadet were spent in his company in one way or another. I suspect most of us who knew him would say the same. From my first taste of Bailey's Irish Cream after a dinner with his family at his home to opening our road show with my best Neil Diamond impersonation, that choir and its director were the only things I ever missed about life at that place. He says in the article that his years at the academy were so busy that he "sort of neglected" his own kids. I hope they didn't feel that way. He seemed to me then, and now, like a man whose heart was more bountiful than the loaves and fish.

There are rare people you meet who touch your heart and make you a better person, the world a better place, and your life a richer experience in every way. Edmund Ladouceur is one of those people. I'll be surprised if there's room for everyone to get in the door at his final service next Sunday.

I'll let you know.