Roland Albert Ouellette finished a remarkable life September 20, 2021, when he died peacefully at home in Fincastle, Virginia, surrounded by his loving family. He is survived by his loving wife of 64 years, Ursula, and four children: Debbie, Jennifer, Denise and Stephen, nine grandchildren (Luci, Hale, Natalie, Lee, Rachel, Matthew, Michael, Danielle, and Nate), three great grandchildren (Tyson, Virginia, Geneva), with one on the way (Everett).
Roland’s remarkable life started ninety-one and a half years earlier, on March 7, 1930, when he was born delivered prematurely into the hands of his family doctor, Dr. Roland Smith, whom he was named after. He was born to Ernest P. and Lucinda (Ringuette) Ouellette. As the 11th child born into a big Catholic family of 15 children, in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, in the middle of America’s Great Depression, during the presidency of Herbert Hoover, between the two World Wars, he was bound to be a survivor, a builder, and a student of history and politics.
He became a survivor in a big family, in a big old house, without a lot of money, but with plenty of chickens and a vegetable garden, and a loving hardworking mother, who fed the children in two shifts: the workers first, and the young children after. He was one of the youngest, so mostly ate leftovers, and was mostly raised by his older sisters, and learned to fend for himself. He did better than simply fend for himself, going off to boarding school and becoming the first one in his family to complete a college education at St. Anselm College, in New Hampshire.
He became a builder by working his first big job as a road paver. He never stopped building after that, working in transportation and development his entire, long work life. He worked for years at General Motors in Detroit, then moved his family to Washington D.C. and lobbied on Capitol Hill for the Interstate Highway system, trucking, railroads, and public transportation. He eventually led the Eno Foundation, a non-profit think-tank, dedicated to solving big transportation issues. He always loved cars and made it a lifelong habit to trade in and buy a new car every couple of years, keeping GM in business!
He not only built a successful career, but also became a builder of fine homes for his wife and children to live in, eventually helping to build the home he shared with Jennifer and Eric in Fincastle, Virginia. He was a great artist and craftsman, producing artwork and building fine furniture, and spawning those same interests in several of his children and grandchildren. He loved tools and equipment, and never hesitated to buy the greatest new tool, tractor, or mower to build his houses and shape the gardens and landscapes around him. He was always busy with a project, working outside, or helping Ursula with her flower gardens. In his late 80’s, he decided he wanted to raise some chickens, like his father did. So, we all pitched in to build a chicken coop, and he supplied us with eggs for a few years.
Roland became a student of history and politics at the knee of his father, who hosted lively Republican political discussions on Sunday evenings at their home in North Attleboro. He followed his strong patriotism into the U.S. Army, serving in an armored division in the occupation of Germany after World War II. Shortly after his tour of duty was over, he returned to New England and met his future bride, Ursula, and they married in 1957. He maintained a passionate interest in world history, warfare, and politics, as evidenced by his large collection of books and biographies, and by the many debates and discussions around the television and dinner table.
Roland was also a great and avid athlete. He started by playing hockey on frozen ponds in his hometown, but advanced to play competitive hockey in high school and college. He also played football in the early days of leather helmets and told great stories of getting bloodied and knocked around as a quarterback in the games of his youth. He later took up tennis and golf, playing with some big political names around Washington D.C. (mostly Republicans, I imagine). He played golf and bowling weekly, up until two years ago. He completely wore out his knees, and got both knees replaced when he was 80 years old, so he could keep on playing. He inspired a passion for sports among many of his children and grandchildren, and loved to watch them play baseball, soccer, gymnastics, and wrestling.
With such a full life, it is easy to forget what a great character Roland was. He was a big personality, who loved to talk and tell stories. He was a great conversationalist, who could turn any dinner party into a history lesson or pull amazing details from the stories and adventures of his life and share them with his listeners. We all became his listeners at one time or another, and this may be what we miss and remember the most. He had a full, long, and busy life, but when he talked, he made the most memorable connection with us. All of us who knew and loved him will remember his big laugh and the great conversations we had. His talk was how he let people get to know him. I hope the silence he left behind will always hold our fond memories of him.
We love you Roland!
Services locally and in Massachusetts will be announced later.
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