Ronald Paquin was born on July 20, 1944, in Saint-Timothée, Que., just west of Montreal. His father, Armand Paquin, was a gardener for a wealthy couple on Montreal’s West Island; mother Jeanette Beaulieu stayed home. A gentle, sweet-natured child who loved the outdoors, “Ti-Ro,” as he was called, was the 10th of 11 children. “In such a big family, he was adored by everyone, but never really spoke up,” says brother Michel. “I’m 58 years old, and never had a fight with him.” Despite his shyness, Ronald was always helping out, watching over Michel, the youngest: “My mom would say, ‘If you’re going somewhere, bring your little brother.’ ”
After Ronald’s ninth year in school, he left to work, soon taking a job at a munitions factory in nearby Salaberry-de-Valleyfield (now called General Dynamics), where he would stay for over 40 years. On July 16, 1966, he married Claudette Brisebois, his first sweetheart. “Ronald had a lovely voice,” Michel recalls. “He sang a song at the reception, and he was trembling, he was so nervous.” Claudette was a calming presence in his life, and the two adored each other. “She called him mon bébé,” Michel recalls. “She’d put notes in his lunch box on the way to work, and the guys would make fun of him. But he’d just say, ‘Your wives don’t love you as much as mine.’ ”
After the birth of daughter Josée on Sept. 7, 1970, the young family moved to Nôtre-Dame-du-Sourire, not far from Valleyfield. An only child, Josée was close with her parents; her father, who was “always smiling,” would take her out for rides on his motorcycle, and sometimes the family would make trips down to Florida. While Ronald was always happy to help friends, family, and neighbours—for example, he recently helped Michel’s son, a university student, move apartments—he was meticulous about his possessions, Josée recalls. “He didn’t have much when he was young, so he liked to look after his things.”
Ronald had long dreamed of living in the countryside, and the couple worked hard to make it happen, Claudette first as a seamstress and later at a depanneur, and Ronald at the factory. When Josée was 18, it looked as though the dream would finally come true. The couple bought an orchard “with 5,000 apple trees” in Saint-Timothée, she says; they’d sell apples at the market, and let people pick their own (Ronald held down his factory job throughout). Soon, though, “his dream became a nightmare,” Josée says, as the house was plagued with problems, from bad insulation to leaks: “In the winters, there was even ice on the carpet.” After about five years of investing in what had become a money pit, the Paquin family could no longer afford the house. They declared bankruptcy, and had to leave. It was extremely hard on Ronald, who became depressed and lost a lot of weight. Still, the couple picked up and started over, renting a home in the countryside close to nearby Sainte-Barbe. Eventually, they were able to buy it.
Some years later, Claudette underwent liposuction on her thighs. Recovering after the surgery, she felt unwell. Ronald tried to help his wife when she suffered a sudden pulmonary embolism, but she died in her husband’s arms. It was a devastating blow to Ronald, who moved in with Josée, her partner François, and their children. He stayed for over a year.
Ronald found love again about two years ago, with another Claudette: a woman he’d known for some years, Claudette Boulanger. “He had his taste for life again,” says Michel. “They were like two young lovers.” Claudette moved into the house; the two would go for walks, play cards, and spend time with the grandkids; Ronald would hunt and fish. Always thoughtful of others, he’d carefully direct visitors out of the driveway, which backed onto a provincial highway (there’d been accidents there in the past, says neighbour Jean-Michel Lussier). One year ago, Ronald finally retired, and was settling into a peaceful life in the country—the one he’d always wanted.
On Feb. 27, he visited Josée; as always, he was eager to help out, replacing her windshield washer fluid. “He said, ‘Where’s my tip?’ ” she recalls. “I said, ‘I’ll give it to you next time.’ ” Ronald returned home to spend the evening with Claudette. It was a bad night for driving, recalls Lussier, who says the road was “like a skating rink.” A car spun off the road onto the couple’s lawn, in what Lussier calls “exactly the same spot” as a previous accident. The two rushed out to help. As they were inspecting damage to the car, a second vehicle careened off the road, crashing into the first, and into Ronald and Claudette. The passengers of the two vehicles were barely injured, but Ronald and Claudette did not survive. He was 65, and Claudette, 61.