Love. Loss. Laughter.
All were part of Saturday’s memorial service for Bangor Daily News State House Bureau Chief Christopher Cousins, who died Aug. 15 at age 42.
The service was held at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris, where Cousins graduated in 1994. As accomplished and well-respected as he was in the world of journalism, it was clear from testimonials that his life revolved around his friends and family, including wife, Jennifer, and sons Caleb, 13, and Lucas, 8.
Robert Long, who was Cousins’ friend and his editor at the BDN, said at the start of the memorial that “the good-natured goofiness that made Chris so special is something we need to celebrate today, to offset the sadness.”
Cousins, Long said, “took great joy in life, and took great joy in sharing life with other people. In a world where the default setting is cruelty a lot of the time, Chris’ warmth and his kindness, his willingness to be there when you needed him made him very special, and that’s something we’ll celebrate.”
Cousins, who started his journalism career at the Advertiser-Democrat in Norway in 1999, graduated from Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. After his stint with the Advertiser-Democrat, he worked at The Times Record, becoming city editor there before leaving to run the State House News Service in Augusta in 2008. A year later, Cousins moved to the BDN where he covered education and then politics. He became chief of the BDN’s State House bureau in 2013.
In June, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting named Cousins one of the 10 most respected journalists in Maine. He has been the recipient of a number of journalism awards from the Maine Press Association, and was the Donald W. Reynolds Fellow for Community Journalism at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University from 2007 to 2008.
Saturday’s service was packed with friends, family, uniformed Scouts and leaders, colleagues, sources and public officials, demonstrating the reach Cousins had in his personal and professional lives.
Cimeron Colby, who graduated from Oxford Hills with Cousins and is now teaching there, asked those gathered to close their eyes for 15 seconds and “capture in your mind an image of Chris laughing. Make sure you pay close attention to the details of his smile. Whatever you picture in your mind, that’s just for you, but that was Chris.”
Colby talked about first meeting Cousins, and being taken with his “smile, smirk and hysterical laugh. It’s what drew us in and why we became his best friends. That’s how I will remember him. That’s how you will remember him.”
Scott Johnson, who also graduated from Oxford Hills with Cousins and who moved back to Maine two years, called his friend “a gift.”
“He was international. He was worldwide. There was nothing that was going to stop him. What I remember about him is that he could not be contained. A man like that is not an owned commodity, but something to be shared.”
Johnson said Cousins “taught me to pay better attention to things in life that were so raw, but so revealing. He represented support in tough times, and love in all times.”
Colby called Cousins “one of the finest teachers I’ve ever known. He didn’t teach by lecture, but by action. He found beauty in every situation and I envied that. He had an amazing perception of the world, the community and the individual.”
“He was a really humble guy,” Johnson said. “That’s how the best are.”
Johnson encouraged everyone in the auditorium to, like Cousins, reach out to friends “because life is short. Love is lasting.”
Long talked about how much Cousins, who was born in Connecticut and moved to Maine as a baby, loved “everything about Maine.” He was an avid outdoorsman who loved hiking, hunting, camping and fishing, activities he had enjoyed with his father and was passing along to his sons.
He would occasionally leave the state for family gatherings or if someone needed his help, Long said, “but the only other time he left Maine was for his education” — and to attend the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston with his friend Johnson, who had won game tickets. (Cousins was an avid Patriots fan; Johnson wanted the Falcons to win.)
Paul LaClair, a college classmate of Cousins, said “Chris’ ability to enjoy himself and everyone around him was prodigious,” and he worked harder than he played. “His contributions to our college newspaper and radio are still stuff of legend.”
LaClair said Cousins “understood the incredible value of the human experience and made sure the people around him understood the kindness, compassion and humanity that he showed us every day.”
Long called Cousins’ death a “loss to storytelling and the art of writing.” He praised Cousins’ consistent work ethic and his “irrational hatred of the word ‘get.’ He had banned his editors from using ‘get’ in a story or headline on something he wrote'” because he thought it a lazy word.
Long remembers when Cousins set out that rule, Long’s retort was: “I get it. Now get back to work.”
That brought the room to applause and giggles.
According to Long, “the last thing Chris would always say to me, even on the most difficult days, even sometimes at 2 o’clock in the morning when the Legislature had kept him at work, sometimes up to 16 hours, ‘you know I love you.'”
The other thing Cousins always said?: “I am not afraid.”
“He wasn’t afraid of writing sad stories. He wasn’t afraid to cry. He wasn’t afraid to tell you he loved you. He wasn’t afraid to come back from a moving speech by a politician, even if he didn’t like him, and cry. He was not afraid to share that,” Long said.
Cousins’ sister, Jen Cousins, read a passage from “Siddhartha,” by Hermann Hesse, a book that her older brother had given her when she was a young girl. When he gave it to her, she remembers he said “it’s just like the Bible. You can open it up to any page and it will give you something that will speak to you. It will give you what you need in that moment.”
And, this week, “sure enough, I found just what I needed,” she said, as she read aloud about the many-voiced song of the river and the images that moved along the river, sweeping Siddhartha’s “loved ones and all the people he had ever seen; all the waves and waters hastened in their suffering toward goals, many goals, the waterfall, the lake, the rapids, the sea; and all the goals were attained, and each was followed by a new one; and the water turned into vapor and rose into the sky, it turned into rain and poured down from the sky, it turned into a fountain, into a brook, into a river; it pressed onward again, it flowed again.”
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