I knew something was on his mind when I heard my name uttered from the front counter. He could see me, so he knew I was there, but Gene Nadeau never just walked into the newsroom without being invited. I'd wave him to come over from my chair and Gene
I knew something was on his mind when I heard my name uttered from the front counter. He could see me, so he knew I was there, but Gene Nadeau never just walked into the newsroom without being invited.
I learned Gene wasn’t looking for me to comment on his point of view. The reason he was delivering the letter in person – making sure that I read it – was to inquire when he could expect to see it in print.
“Gene,” I’d inquire, “you have a computer. Why don’t you email me this?” It made good sense to me. He would save the trip and I’d have the letter in a digital format, saving me the time of typing it. Further, as I pointed out, there was a good chance I could get the letter into print sooner.
Gene never offered an explanation, so I wasn’t surprised to see him at the counter in a couple of weeks with another hand-written letter. This was old school and that wasn’t going to change.
I first met Gene in the early years of the Warwick Boys Club (before the club changed to include girls). He was one of the community activists who founded the club, which at the time was being run out of the armory next to St. Barnabas Church in Apponaug, now the home of the Warwick Center for the Arts. It was both a challenging and exciting time for the club. Without getting into details, the club was faced with firing its executive director and developing a plan and raising the money to build a clubhouse in Oakland Beach. The club went on to name Florence St. Jean its director, the first female director of a Boys Club in the country. Gene was proud of what the club became (now with three branches) and its service to the community’s youth.
In 2010, Gene became the oldest Warwick candidate to run for office when he ran and won a seat on the School Committee. He invested himself in schools, attending open houses and virtually every musical recital from elementary school up through high school. Now superintendent of schools, Lynn Dambruch, said he loved music and he wanted to support students who had the talent and courage to perform.
She and her secretary Catherine Bonang remember, too, Gene’s Friday night soirees where he played host to family and friends. They would cross paths with Gene at Dave’s Fresh Marketplace, where they would find him buying shrimp he’d serve with his favorite cocktail, manhattans.
Gene also had strong political views, as I learned during the 2020 presidential campaign. He respected differing opinions but took issue with the printing of letters he termed disrespectful of the presidential position. He felt the paper should not stoop to printing such commentary, even though I would explain editorials, not letters, reflect the paper’s opinion.
Gene was vocal in opposing the expansion of the sewer system, especially when it came to his neighborhood of Governor Francis Farms. His argument, articulated at public hearings, which was sure to generate chuckles from the audience and tweak the ire of sewer authority members, was that animals, birds, even the fish swimming in Narragansett Bay poop and what might we do to stop that.
What I admired about Gene, a retired banker, is that he didn’t let age define him. He was never too old to express his opinion, to pen his thoughts – although an email would have made things easier. Warwick is a better place for his engagement.
Gene died on Sept. 11 at the age of 90.