Whether it was as a player, a coach an official, or even a fan, Lawrence “Red” St. Louis thoroughly enjoyed sports.
The longtime high school and college basketball referee and softball umpire from Orono passed away in his sleep at the age of 65 early Wednesday morning, leaving untold friends, family, peers, and fellow sports enthusiasts to mourn his loss and reflect on a man who had a natural way with sharing laughter and smiles without sacrificing professionalism or dedication.
“This is just not fair. It just isn’t right,” said Old Town resident and Caribou native Mike Thurston, who officiated many high school basketball games with St. Louis over a solid 25-year career. “This is nothing less than tragic. For him, I’m glad he went without being in any pain, but it’s not fine for anyone else who knew him.”
Although he had strong roots in Orono as a native, an Orono High School alumnus, member of the University of Maine class of 1977, and a former Orono High School coach, St. Louis almost immediately fit right into the Bangor High sports community when he became a scoreboard operator at Bangor soccer and basketball games.
“He was an integral part of our family and really fun to have around,” said Steve Vanidestine, Bangor High School athletic director. “He’s a special friend to our family at school. He was very funny and popular and supportive of the teams.”
Vanidestine gave St. Louis his first Bangor baseball cap after St. Louis came to the area.
“It’s going to be really hard to go to the gym and not see Red there with his sportcoat and tie,” he said. “That’s another thing is his professionalism that you appreciated and noticed.”
Bangor varsity boys basketball coach Roger Reed remembers first meeting St. Louis as an official before getting to know him better while Reed was coaching St. Louis’ daughter Karyn on the Bangor soccer team.
“He cracked us up at the scorers’ table,” said Reed. “As an official, you could talk to him. He wasn’t one of those guys with an attitude.
“I’ll always remember his sense of humor, his smile and how positive he was all the time. You just don’t find guys like Red St. Louis. He’s one of a kind and it’s hard to replace a guy like him.”
St. Louis had a knack for dry wit and teasing friends and fellow officials, and rarely excluded himself from the ribbing.
“He had eyesight problems and would always kid about it, even after he had eye surgery,” said longtime radio and TV broadcaster George Hale, who has called high school basketball games for six decades and remembered him as a player and official. “And he loved it when people teased him. I used to tell him back when he was refereeing if he had his seeing eye dog, and he would ask me about the two games I was doing: the one I was broadcasting and the real game.”
St. Louis coached the Orono High girls basketball team to a 4-12 record in the 1981-82 season before becoming a high school and college basketball official. He refereed high school tournament games for seven of his 14 seasons.
“When you went up to Bangor and had those two (St. Louis and Thurston) in the gym, you focused totally on the game because you knew you didn’t need to worry about the way the game was officiated,” said Lawrence of Fairfield boys coach Mike McGee. “And he was fabulous with his honesty and communication.”
The former Quality Cash Registers salesman also umpired high school and college softball games for two decades.
St. Louis battled health problems the last few years as his family has a history of heart disease. He had a pacemaker implanted about two years ago and recently underwent an adjustment.
“He was told his condition might not allow him to live another year or so if they didn’t do something,” said Dave Ames, fellow basketball official and International Association of Approved Basketball Officials Board 111 interpreter and Eastern Maine Tournament site supervisor. “He had a procedure done Monday and the doctors were optimistic.”
Ames and Thurston both recalled humorous stories St. Louis also told about his bad eyesight and how the fans were right when they called him blind, but the best came from Ames.
“I always had Red tell this story to my rookie officials every year,” Ames said. “He called a ‘meaningless’ foul with three seconds to go in this lopsided game, and after the game in the locker room, a man came to the officials’ locker room to thank him for calling the foul because his daughter was the girl who got to take the foul shots.
The “chubby girl who rarely played” hit one of two.
Years later, that girl introduced herself to him at Eastern Maine Medical Center. He was there for a checkup and she was a nurse.
“She had become this successful, pretty woman and she thanked him for helping her to gain some self-esteem and confidence through that experience,” Ames recalled. “He would still get a little choked up while telling it.”
St. Louis is survived by wife Patty, daughter Karyn and son Scott. Donations in his honor can be made to the Red St. Louis Scholarship Fund, c/o Mike Archer, Orono High School, 14 Goodridge Drive, Orono, ME 04473.
Visiting hours are 5-7 p.m. Thursday and 3-6 p.m. Friday at Kiley & Foley Funeral Service, 299 Union Street, Bangor, and a Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Mary’s Church on Ohio Street in Bangor.