Edouard Gauthier, 70, artist who taught philosophy to inmates

March 28, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Edouard August Caldwell Gauthier, an artist and prison educator, died of Alzheimer's disease Tuesday at Pickersgill Retirement Community in Towson. The Butler resident was 70.

Mr. Gauthier was born in Ottawa and raised in Detroit. He was a graduate of Mont St. Louis, a Montreal boarding school. He became an American citizen in 1961 and served in the Army as a clerk in France.

After leaving the Army, he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and then returned to Detroit where he earned a master's degree in the discipline from Wayne State University. He taught and did graduate work at the University of Kansas and completed most requirements for his doctorate except his dissertation.

"Edouard had been, throughout his life, something of a rebel, and as a philosopher was a deep thinker," said a brother, Andre Gauthier of Ottawa, a retired Canadian army colonel. "When his mentor for the Ph.D. asked him to write something a certain way, he wasn't prepared to sacrifice himself just for the sake of the degree. He was a jovial person, but he didn't suffer fools gladly. That's just the way he was."

As a young man, Mr. Gauthier had spent months hitchhiking across the United States, and when he returned home to Detroit, his father, the honorary French consul there, was hosting a party.

"When he arrived home in the middle of this well-dressed party, he was wearing dusty jeans and carrying a backpack," Colonel Gauthier said.

Slightly annoyed by his parents' lack of an enthusiastic greeting while caring for their guests, Mr. Gauthier decided to take matters into his own hands.

"During his journey, he had recorded a field full of sheep bleating on a tape recorder he carried in his backpack. So, he quietly turned it on and slowly raised the volume until all the guests were shouting over the bleating of the sheep. No one knew where it was coming from," Colonel Gauthier said, laughing.

From 1961 to 1995, until he retired, Mr. Gauthier taught philosophy to inmates at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., and later, after moving to Baltimore in the early 1980s, at the Maryland House of Correction and the Maryland Penitentiary.

"He wanted to bring help to those who were in prison and had different lives," Colonel Gauthier said.

"He really didn't like teaching college kids because he knew all they did was to learn enough so they could spit it back on an exam or paper," said his wife of 25 years, the former Donna Ariosa, a registered nurse.

"He liked teaching convicts much better because they would really engage with him. They didn't take what he said and spit it back. He loved their challenges," she said.

Mr. Gauthier, who had studied painting since he was 12, enjoyed working in oils and alkyds, producing abstract artwork.

Mr. Gauthier explained his approach to painting on his Web site: "I don't do painting to please others. They can pull their hair, jump out the window. ... It's OK. I plan to continue painting, valuing it, improving it, Although I don't paint to please others, I do please others and I like that," he wrote in 1999.

From 1977 to 1981, he was a member of Sufi, an upstate New York spiritual community where he worked in glass, making mosaic lamps.

An accomplished outdoorsman and canoeist who trekked to the Arctic several times, Mr. Gauthier turned to the wilderness for one last challenge after doctors diagnosed Alzheimer's disease in 1997.

He wanted to travel in a single-man canoe from the headwaters of Monks River in Canada to where it joins the Ottawa River.

"The trip was five days long and was about 100 miles. Its rapids are in Class 4, 5 and 6. He was always looking for challenges but later acknowledged that it was imprudent to have done it," his brother said. "I think if something had happened to him, it wouldn't have been a bad way to go. I think that was his state of mind."

He was a member of the Baltimore Canoe Club.

Plans for a May memorial service in Baltimore were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to his wife and brother, Mr. Gauthier is survived by another brother, Paul Gauthier of Montreal; and two sisters, Louise Gauthier of Rochester Hills, Mich., and Michele Gauthier of Grand Junction, Mich. His earlier marriages to the former Maxine Combs and Nan Hill ended in divorce.

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