FORT KENT, Maine — There are people who have a positive impact wherever they go and in whatever they do, just by being themselves.
Rose Nadeau Sinclair — known for her gentle manners, her kindness, her dedication to her Acadian roots, her support of the Republican Party and for taking off on solo car trips — was the epitome of that kind of individual.
On Monday, at 89 years old, she decided it was time for one final trip, and after enjoying a meal out with friends and family, Rose Nadeau passed away, leaving behind an amazing legacy.
This was a woman who could claim a number of “firsts” in the state, counted national leaders and sports personalities among her personal friends, was the recipient of numerous awards and who served as an inspiration to all who knew her.
But she never wanted to talk about any of it.
Rose was nothing if not humble and for years frustrated many a writer’s attempt at feature stories on her life.
When she got married for the first time — at 81 years old — there was not an editor in Maine who did not want that warm and fuzzy feature.
But Rose would have none of it. With her gracious smile and kind words, all such requests were politely declined and deflected.
This was a woman who had chosen her own life’s path, and the fact that a journey covering close to nine decades included numerous newsworthy feats, as far as Rose was concerned, was mere coincidence.
As noted by her family, whenever Rose was honored or congratulated for doing something in particular, she would inevitably reply something along the lines of, “I don’t understand what the fuss is, it needed to be done.”
Rose was named Fort Kent Citizen of the Year in 1978 — the first woman to receive that award. I remember in a conversation some years later her telling me, “They must have run out of other people to give it to.”
She was also a recipient of the University of Maine at Fort Kent Distinguished Service Award in 1989.
In this day and age of instant information and the ability to Google anything, type in “Rose Nadeau” on an Internet search engine and see what comes up.
It was the same with the computerized archives at the Bangor Daily News. Despite Rose’s being one of Maine’s first female registered hunting and fishing guides, the first woman to serve on the Fort Kent Town Council, and a highly successful area businesswoman with her McLellan’s Dress Shop, she managed to avoid the media spotlight for years.
That’s an amazing thing when you consider those who take any opportunity to jump in front of a camera or microphone these days.
In a rare interview, she told the BDN’s Jeannine Albert in 1984, “My first love is fishing. I was raised close to the water and when it came to handling a canoe, I could hold my own.”
In the same interview Rose told of learning to tie flies at an early age, a skill which eventually led to her tying a streamer for baseball great Ted Williams.
“I knew him as a great sportsman, not as a ballplayer,” Rose said in 1984.
The one thing Rose would never avoid was talking about her beloved St. John Valley.
Long considered a go-to source for anything related to the area’s history, she could keep you engaged for hours with her stories about life in the Maine woods, early Fort Kent and the Acadian settlers.
Because of that her talents and knowledge were huge assets for groups like the Fort Kent Historical Society and the Maine Acadian Cultural Preservation Commission.
Everyone who knew her has a favorite Rose story.
There’s the time years ago when, while serving on the town council and attending the annual town meeting in front of about 500 residents the discussion turned to funding town roads
A local woman — not at her best — stood up and began making the argument for approving funds for the “town Rose,” encouraging others to vote with her.
When the laughter died down, Rose graciously thanked the woman and explained the funds in question were for the town highway maintenance, not for her work on the council.
Rose loved her time in the Maine woods and at her camp on Eagle Lake and one of my favorite stories from her early guiding days involved her taking a noted politician out on a fishing trip on Eagle Lake out of the old Michaud Camps.
According to Rose, not only were there no fish biting that day, it poured rain off and on the whole time.
Not about to let weather or conditions ruin the outing, she said the two spent the day wet, fishless and singing “The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring,” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado.”
To this day whenever I hear that song, all I can see is Rose and her “sport” soaking wet, still lines in the lake, laughing without a care in the world.
Among Rose’s fondest memories was the time when William Cohen was representing Maine in the U.S. Senate and she visited him at his Washington, D.C. office.
While there, Cohen escorted Rose to lunch in the Senate Dining Room.
It was a highlight of her life and, in true Rose fashion, she would always end the story along the lines, “Can you believe William Cohen would take the time to take me to lunch in the Senate Dining Room?”
She was so honored by that experience. To be honest, I’d have to say it was Cohen who should feel honored.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation this week joined Rose’s family in celebrating her life while mourning the loss.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Rose Nadeau Sinclair, who was such a good friend to me and to so many,” Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement. “She was so helpful to me and taught me so much about the history of the St. John Valley and of her beloved Fort Kent. I know that she will long be missed by those who knew and loved her.”
“Rose was quite simply, the best,” Sen. Olympia Snowe said in her own statement. “She embodied the definition of ‘success’ in all of its facets, having lived a life that invariably inspired and uplifted others [and] in doing so she’s left an indelible mark on her community and her state.”
Running into Rose around town at the grocery store, gas station or a local restaurant was always a treat.
More often than not she’d have a story about her latest adventure — she seemed to always be taking off in her car for solo trips into Quebec or other parts of Maritime Canada to trace her Acadian roots. She loved few things more that sharing what she’d learned or seen on those trips.
Single for most of her life, she married John Sinclair when she was 81 years old, making believers in happy endings out of even the most cynical.
It’s hard to imagine a Fort Kent without Rose, but her contributions are lasting and will not be forgotten.
In that 1984 BDN article Rose was asked how she would like to be remembered and she replied to “have contributed a small part to make my community a safe place to live. I don’t know if I’m loved here, but I love the people here.”
Trust me Rose, you are loved.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who frequently submits articles to the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.