Community made strong when very different people work in unison

A community by its nature is a variety of people. Different beliefs, opinions, abilities and paths converge and meet. At the same time, these people also have several elements in common that bring them together. This provides a sense of cohesion and solidarity. It’s impressive to see how this balance between variety and unity operates.

This weekend (Oct. 28-29), the launch of the opening festivities at the Jean-Daigle Centre gave me the opportunity to witness this again. Two very different personalities come to mind immediately to illustrate this point. Curiously, both of them bear the name of Jean. For the sake of my purpose, I’ll call them Ti-Jean (actually that’s really what we called him when I was young) and Grand Jean.

First to mind, there is Ti-Jean. Jean Desroches was his full name. He lived in Edmundston from his birth in 1954 until his death in 2007. Ti-Jean had Down syndrome. He was a ray of sunshine in the heart of the community of Edmundston East in particular. I was a kid at the time. His memory remains vivid in my mind.

Grand Jean – Jean Daigle
(Contributed by Cyrille Simard)

Ti-Jean was everywhere. He was regularly seen walking around the “Le Mur” hall with his inseparable “drum sticks.” He imitated the drummers by moving his sticks in the air while walking. He sang rock n’ roll tunes aloud. Always smiling. Everyone loved and protected him.

In addition, Ti-Jean was a hardcore sports fan … especially softball, baseball and, of course, hockey. There was virtually no sporting event in town without Ti-Jean being there. He greeted people, gave them a pat on the back or told jokes and laughed with his contagious laughter. I still hear his characteristic laugh as if it were yesterday.

The diminutive name “Ti-Jean” suggests that perhaps he was just a small piece of the community. This is the perception that can emerge when one measures the place of a person in society in relation to his past exploits, his economic or political power, his place in the media, etc.

Yes, Ti-Jean was unique. He was but one element in the variety of people found in a community. But, certainly, he was part of it and he contributed to the life and identity of the community. He was an inseparable piece. The community protected him and made him grow. At the Jean-Daigle Centre last weekend, Ti-Jean would have been there with us. In fact, I think he was surely in his way.

And then, there is Grand Jean. Jean Daigle is his full name. Jean is more than 6 feet tall and is built like a refrigerator. He played sports at high levels, including up to the doors of the National Hockey League.

He is a successful businessman who built a large business that provided for many families in our city over time. Respected for his business acumen, he was perhaps feared by others because he evolved in a competitive field where even when the rules of the game are followed, some win and others lose.

A man of few words, Jean is imbued with great simplicity. He spent his life more often than not unnoticed in the community landscape. He has rarely been under the spotlight for his achievements.

Unlike Ti-Jean, Jean Daigle was indeed present in the community amphitheatre this past weekend. Certainly, it’s in part because of the generous gift that he and his wife have given for the construction of the centre that bears his name.

But he wasn’t there for that reason alone. Throughout the weekend, he told me how happy he was to see the smiling faces of thousands of people in the community who admired the facilities and expressed their pride in the outcome of this project.

Jean is humble despite the importance of his contribution to this project. He says that he did so for the common interest of all.

And then there was this moment of grace. I am at the centre of the rink as I wait to make the first formal face-off of the history of this building. The announcer invites Jean Daigle to come to the centre of the ice to join me. He gets on the red carpet and makes his way to the rhythm of the applause that starts.

All of a sudden, spontaneously, the 2,600 people in attendance get up for a long, warm, generous standing ovation. Emotion ties a knot in my throat. Jean Daigle’s face at this moment will remain etched in my memory just as the smile of our Ti-Jean of yesteryear. Pride, maybe. Humility, no doubt. Ti-Jean of old became a Grand Jean thanks to the love and protection that his community gave him. Modest as he is, today’s Grand Jean undoubtedly felt small, as if in the shoes of a Ti-Jean, faced with such a manifestation of love and gratitude.

It is said that a community is a group of people who possess and indivisibly enjoy a shared heritage. All this is our heritage. A community is never as beautiful and strong by nature as when all Ti-Jeans and Grand Jeans are generous and work together beyond their apparent differences.

Yes, Ti-Jean was there on Saturday night with Grand Jean on the ice.

Cyrille Simard

Edmundston mayor

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