Eugene Roach, beloved Yellowknife teacher and musician, has passed away

Two weeks ago, Eugene Roach decided he wanted to see the Toronto Blue Jays play in Seattle.

Never mind, Eugene was, at that time, really very ill and was receiving palliative care. The 15-year-old Yellowknife teacher had a Jays game on his mind. He and his wife Cynthia did.

“I think I have weeks to plan this, and he’s like, ‘We have to go on Friday.’ And that was Wednesday. There was no way,” Cynthia recalled this week, shortly after Eugene died in Sooke, British Columbia, after four years of living with an aggressive form of breast cancer. lung.

“Against everyone’s advice, we went there.

Hospice nurses, unconvinced by this ploy, had Eugene prove he could walk 50 meters and Cynthia could insert a subcutaneous butterfly to provide Eugene with medication. Both passed their tests.

Eugene Roach attends a Toronto Blue Jays game in Seattle in July 2022. Photo: Cynthia Roach

“He sat in row 12, between first base and home plate. I’ve never seen a bigger smile on him,” Cynthia said.

“He wouldn’t put on sunscreen. He burned his knees. And he said, ‘What’s the worst that’s going to happen? I’m going to have skin cancer. And how do you argue with him?

This episode summarizes the approach to life – and death – of Eugène Roach, physical education teacher, father, musician, sports fanatic and extraordinary friend, who died Monday at the age of 45.

“Things just didn’t stop him,” Cynthia said. “He was motivated by wanting to do something and not sitting around saying, ‘I have cancer’. That was no excuse.”

Born in the Acadian fishing village of Saint-Louis de Kent in 1976, Eugène knew how to bait a trap practically before he could walk. An only child growing up and describing himself as a “gym rat” in school, he initially harbored dreams of a career in the Coast Guard, but eventually left the Université de Moncton as a teacher. qualified.

At the insistence of a friend, Eugene, 24, drove his Chevy Blazer across the country – the farthest west he had traveled by then was Ontario – to Mayo, in the Yukon, where he taught for two and a half years before landing a full-time job as a physical education teacher at St Joseph School in Yellowknife. (This week, the children decorated the school in homage to Eugene in chalk.)

Having moved in part because he felt lonely in Mayo, Eugene was introduced to his bride-to-be almost as soon as he arrived in the NWT capital. Their meeting was not entirely accidental.

“I was running a football tournament,” he recalled in a 2019 interview, “and some of the kids she was coaching came up to me and asked if I was single.”

The same night, a relative did the same thing. He brushed it off.

“A week later mutual friends invited us to Jose Loco’s,” Cynthia said, continuing the story and recalling a bar on the city’s main street at the time. “I was at the table. He came in and we just laughed. We were there again, with friends trying to trick us.

“I was not an easy person then. I wasn’t the most welcoming. But he wooed me.

The couple just celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary.

“She’s an even bigger part of my life now than when I got married, if that’s possible,” he said of her in 2019. “It just keeps growing, it’s amazing. “

Eugène Roach with his guitar in a photo used for his first album of French songs
Eugène Roach with his guitar in a photo used for his first album of French songs. Photo: Supplied

A country music lover, Eugène had learned to play the guitar at university and has been performing ever since. In the summer of 2018, he was scheduled to perform at the Yellowknife Farmer’s Market and had been secretly practicing a new song, all about Cynthia, for weeks.

Half an hour before he was due to perform, he had an appointment to review the results of some x-rays after a nagging cough. Although he has never smoked or taken drugs, he was told he had stage four lung cancer called adenocarcinoma.

“The show must go on,” he recalled thinking, when asked about the moment a year later.

“I knew I had this song in my back pocket that I wanted to sing to my wife. She was sitting on the grass at City Hall, listening.

“I succeeded. I had the lyrics in front of me, thank God, because I had trouble concentrating.

“Until he died, he kept telling me we were going to celebrate our 15th anniversary,” Cynthia said. “He didn’t believe he was as sick as he was. And he was very, very sick.

Eugene became a valuable sports coach and hockey goalie
Eugene became a valuable athletic trainer and hockey goalie. Photo: Supplied
Eugene with his daughter Courtney
Eugene with his daughter Courtney. Photo: Supplied

Having started hockey later than many others, Eugene became a goaltender. If he used music to communicate love, he used sport to illustrate his approach to cancer.

“I’m on the ice focused on the puck, the next shot,” he often said, explaining how he perceived his experience.

“That’s my diagnosis. It’s okay, I’ll just kick his ass.

“But everyone in the stands is on the edge of their seat every time a shot comes my way. They are nervous. I’m just focused on the puck and making that save.

Eugene recently suffered a stroke. Among his last acts, aside from the Blue Jays game, were a bike ride with friends and a swim with his daughter in a lake.

“Each day was meant to have a job and an adventure,” Cynthia said. “Cradle, sitting on the deck, something. He held on until the very end. »

In a tribute, Yellowknife Catholic Schools called Eugene – a Northwest Territories Hall of Fame educator – “an amazing teacher, coach, colleague, mentor and human being.”

A student came one Halloween dressed up as "Mr Roach."
A student showed up one Halloween dressed as “Mr Roach”. Photo: Supplied

The school board wrote: “He was our students’ biggest advocate and their biggest fan. The students knew Mr. Roach loved them, and they loved Mr. Roach back. He taught his colleagues and friends how to live life with grace and joy.

Eugene is survived by Cynthia, his daughter Courtney, his son-in-law Lionel, his mother Linda, his father Isidore, his stepmother Donna and his stepfather Ray.

A Yellowknife Community Foundation scholarship is to be established in his name and a celebration of life will be held for him in Yellowknife before the end of the year. “One last musical evening,” Cynthia called him.

“The support is overwhelming. I didn’t fully understand the scope it had,” she said.

“He wasn’t the guy over there in the middle of the street, in the middle of all this commotion. He was the quiet guy in the goalie net.

“His reach is further than I could have ever imagined. The love and kindness that has been shown is incredible.