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Fisher King

Oration honouring Gus Etchegary
Thursday, May 29, 3 p.m.

A man is defined by his passions and in honouring Gus Etchegary today we are honouring a man whose passion is not that of the self-indulgent hedonist. For all his vigour, this man is not passion’s slave. He has expended his passion in a life-long commitment to prosecuting the fishery and defending the rights and freedoms of Newfoundlanders to garner and guard the bounty of our resources.

His passion for our culture and resources is rooted in his ancestry. His very name, Etchegary, bears witness to the ancient presence of the Basque sailors, fishermen, and cartographers who named many of our coves, headlands, and islands: the red granite cliffs, Les Buttes of Red Bay, Labrador; the hidden shoals, the Cadarrai, of Cape Ray; the archipelago of islands off the coast of Berges, now known as Burgeo. The Biscayers gave their name to Biscay Bay, their charts and toponyms allowed the Europeans to sail with confidence in the waters of the New World.

So, it is fitting that Gus Etchegary, a descendant of these energetic pioneers whose descendants made these lands and waters their home, has spent his life defending these waters against the encroachment of latter-day overseas adventurers, and the modern many-headed monsters of the deep: the misuse and mismanagement of our resources: the media manipulation and misrepresentation of our resources and our people.

In his distinguished career at Fishery Products International, as Canadian Commissioner to the International Commission of the North Atlantic Fishery Organization (NAFO), as founder, as far back as 1971, of the Save Our Fisheries Association (SOFA), and the Fisheries Institute of North Atlantic Islands (FIN), Gus has tenaciously and vociferously defended our right to fish, not just off Cape St. Mary’s, but up to 200 miles from our shores, and beyond to the Continental Shelf.

We could by rights call Gus our Fisher King, that medieval archetype who warned people against turning a rich and fertile land into a barren wasteland. Chrétien de Troyes, the twelfth century chronicler, could have been describing Gus when he described the Fisher King as a tall and stalwart knight of good age, and a little grizzled but the Fisher King standing before you is no impotent defender of the primitive struggle to compel and control the forces of nature.
Throughout his career, this powerful man’s counsel was sought and respected by everyone in the fishing business. Equally frank with high-ranking government ministers, union officials and the men and women catching the fish and taking it home, Gus was the trouble-shooter, the go-to guy who never took his eye of the ball, nor lost sight of the ultimate goal – to lead and to protect his team to the finish and to win.

Where does he get this competitive energy, this passion, this loyalty? Why from the rural community of his boyhood – St. Lawrence. That town of heroes and champions. The town that saved the lives of 186 shipwrecked United States sailors from the USS Truxtun on that freezing February night in 1942. Gus was there that night, as was another young man, Lanier Phillips, the African American seaman who had only known bigotry and brutality, but that night learned humanity from a town of white strangers.

Who says there are no heroes in our modern age nor archetypal myths? In this Convocation week we are honouring two men whom the fates brought together long ago on the shores of Newfoundland and who are now honoured on this stage. One was summoned by his father to risk his own life to save strangers – Gus Etchegary, the other – Lanier Phillips, was the ship-wrecked sailor washed ashore that night, expecting to be lynched, but instead was brought back to life.

St. Lawrence, the soccer capital of Canada has honoured Gus for his contribution to their civic pride, and athletic prowess, as has the Canadian Soccer Association. He is their local hero. But he owes them, and athletics a debt, too. The leadership skills he learned in soccer and hockey helped him in his career. In dealing with Newfoundland and Canadian ministers, and Norwegian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, South American, Vietnamese and Japanese officials he showed time and again he could block tackles, withstand blind-side runs. He knew when to avoid cautions and yellow cards to close down the opposition and drive an equalizer home. Not only could this man Bend it like Beckham, he could Go for it like Gus.

Gus Etchegary is famous for the energy of his epithets and the frankness of his speech and, as you know, the Fisher King of the twelfth century still continued to speak to his compatriots, even after he was decapitated. In our modern age we do not decapitate our guardians and defenders. We can turn on our radios and still hear Gus on the Fisheries Broadcast and his voice is prominent in The Telegram and The Independent – we still benefit from his analytical mind and his passionate views. Medieval and modern poets remind us of the men we must value if we want our fragile world to survive and of the resources needed to protect our civilization. For when the ball is flying, the lads, and lasses, must play heart and soul for the goal stands up, and the keeper stands to keep the goal.

Gus Etchegary has been the keeper of our goal to control our renewable resources, protect our marine environment and to value our families and culture. So I ask you to inscribe his name, if not on the Stanley Cup – then on Memorial’s honour roll by conferring on him the degree of doctor of laws (honoris causa).

Dr. Annette Staveley
Deputy public orator
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