Joan Gaudet, one of three Maine Troop Greeters members featured in the documentary film “The Way We Get By,” has died at the age of 81.
Gaudet, along with more than 30 elderly veterans, men and women, was on call for more than a decade to head down to Bangor International Airport at any hour of the day or night and greet troops on their way home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gaudet’s son, filmmaker Aron Gaudet, and his wife, Gita Pullapilly, produced a documentary in 2009 about the troop greeters, titled “The Way We Get By,” which prominently featured Joan and her fellow greeters Bill Knight and Jerry Mundy. Knight died in December 2013 at the age of 91.
“I’m just proud to have had the opportunity to share my mom with the rest of the world. She touched the lives of so many troops passing through Bangor. But more importantly, they touched her life and gave her a reason to keep going as she grew older,” Aron Gaudet said. “She truly lived her life to take care of others. And she gave the best hugs.”
The documentary showcased how the troop greeters provided a heartfelt welcome to more than 1 million returning soldiers and also offered an intimate and moving look at the process of aging, including how the three featured individuals dealt with poverty, ill health and the deaths of loved ones, and how volunteering gave them the strength to carry on. It was screened nationwide, featured on PBS and even brought Gaudet, Knight and Mundy to Washington, D.C., to meet Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.
“She was one of my favorites — there was no doubt about that,” Chuck Knowlen, chairman of the Maine Troop Greeters organization, said. “She was the little lady behind the desk who was always there. The troops loved her, and I loved her. She loved to talk to the troops about who they were and their families. She liked it most when they were on their way home instead of leaving. But regardless, she was always there.”
A longtime resident of Bradley, Gaudet was mother to eight children and grandmother to many more. Gaudet, who was born in Bangor, said in the film she was “addicted to” greeting the troops and was overwhelmed by the response the film garnered.
“People say, ‘There goes the movie star.’ But I’m still just me,” she said in a 2009 story in the Bangor Daily News. “I don’t feel any different.”