BATH, Maine — Twenty years ago, Bath was rocked by the sudden death of beloved husband, father, son — and football star — Jimmy Rouillard at the age of 33.
Within six months, his father, Leon Rouillard, and his uncle, Gene Rouillard, also were gone.
Communities grieve death in different ways, but few come together with the passion and sense of shared loss that the Bath and Morse High School communities felt as they mourned — and continue to honor — the loss of the three Rouillards.
Jimmy, who graduated from Morse in 1981, was well-known in the five towns that attend Morse High School for playing football, basketball and baseball — although perhaps moreso for just being a good guy. He left a wife, Lynn, and two young daughters, Katie and Sarah. Katie was 9 at the time, and Sarah was 6.
“It’s so funny — the one word that I think you’d hear from everybody is, Jimmy was just a nice, nice person,” Lynn Rouillard-Hill said Friday. “He was genuine. He was so family-oriented and he loved his kids more than life itself … and boy, the old-timers, when they used to go watch him play football Saturday afternoons at McMann Field, that was the highlight of their week.”
Jimmy died of complications from pancreatitis in 1997. Leon Rouillard (MHS class of ‘55) who worked at Bath Iron Works and later owned a land surveying company with his son, died of mesothelioma. Gene Rouillard (MHS class of ‘54), a well-known postman in Bath, died of complications from heart surgery.
Todd Flaherty was Jimmy’s best friend. He recalled on Thursday speaking at his memorial service at St. Mary’s Church on Lincoln Street — which couldn’t contain all who turned out — where they played Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.”
“It was one of the biggest celebrations of life I’ve ever seen,” Flaherty said. “He was such an integral part of the community, really.”
Flaherty, Charlie Houghton, and Jimmy’s other friends looked for a way to remember him, “to help his name live on at the high school.”
Later that year, they held the first James D. Rouillard Memorial Golf Tournament.
In a sports-oriented community that boasts the largest active alumni association in the country, the tournament quickly became popular. It became an annual event.
“When the tournament originated, I think it brought such a crowd because it was such a tragedy in the community,” Rouillard-Hill said.
“It’s special,” Flaherty said of the Morse community. “You talk to people from other communities and they’re great communities, but the focus isn’t around the school. I’m not saying they don’t have an alumni association or pride — of course they do — but it’s different. ‘Shipbuilder Nation’ is part of that. You see it in the Blue and White Tournament — the energy that’s out there — I think that carries over.”
The tournament raises money for a $3,500 scholarship given in the Rouillards’ names to a Morse senior. It’s among more than $200,000 given out every year by the Morse Alumni Association, Rouillard-Hill said.
For 19 years, Flaherty and his wife, Kate Callan Flaherty, and Houghton ran the tournament. This year, they’ve passed the ball to Jimmy’s daughter, Katie Rouillard Walker, now 29, and her mom.
Rouillard Walker made a few changes to the tournament — this year it will start later and a band, Under the Covers, will play in the evening — but is carrying on in the tradition set by her father’s good friends.
Jimmy’s younger daughter, Sarah Rouillard, 26, his mom and Leon’s wife, Carole Rouillard, his sister, Lynne Pinkham, and Gene Rouillard’s family will attend, as will Flaherty, who plays every year.
“We won a couple of years,” he said. “A lot of times we give Jimmy credit for shots that are beyond our count. We drink a toast to him with his favorite beer — Coors Light, which we all hate. And his number was 33, so we’ll fight for the 33 golf cart and one of us will have a 33 golf ball.”
“It’s been 20 years and a lot of us have lost people close to us since then,” Flaherty said. “It’s almost like another Memorial Day for friends and family that have been lost. It’s all about the Rouillards, but then you see someone in the crowd who has lost someone and you commiserate with them. It’s a yearly celebration of life, and it’s grown into something that is pretty cool.”
The 20th annual James D. Rouillard Memorial Tournament will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, with a shotgun start at noon at the Bath Golf Club. Teams of five cost $75 per player, plus an optional designated putter for $30. The fee includes the cost of dinner, including prime rib and seafood casserole, followed by music from Under the Covers from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is by donation. A 50/50 and raffle will also raise funds for the scholarship. For more information visit the tournament Facebook page.