Paul DesCoteaux, a longtime Geneva alderman who valued education and community service, died this week from a stroke-related illness.
DesCoteaux, 83, spent 21 years on the city council until his retirement in 2009. He launched a volunteer committee that plants and maintains flower beds in the downtown area.
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DesCoteaux was remembered by family members and friends as an honest, self-made man who hated government waste, believed in service to others and giving back to the community.
"My dad spoke his mind, and he was honest. He was a man of words and a man of his word," said Andrea DesCoteaux, one of his five children with his wife of 60 years, Terry. "He cared an awful lot because he grew up in the Depression and had didn't have anything."
DesCoteaux was born in the French Canadian community of Lowell, Mass., on Dec. 7, 1928. His mother died of breast cancer when he was 16, and he worked two or three jobs at a time to be the first from his family to graduate college and pursue and attain secondary degrees.
He worked for the Sun Oil Co., Standard Oil of Indiana (BP Amoco), and as a management consultant for Lebanon Seaboard Corp. During his career, he traveled the world, skiing in Switzerland and swimming with the sea lions in La Paz, his family said.
In addition to serving as Geneva alderman, he volunteered for Fox Valley Literacy, was the founder of the Franklin Award and Scholarship for Science Education, and served on the board of directors for the Fermilab Friends for Science Education.
He also was a co-founder of Geneva Learners, a weekly study group focused on world affairs. On the city council, he was a fiscal conservative.
"He had a work ethic and a desire to be involved. That's where his lifelong learning came from. He felt it was important to become involved in his community because we don't live in a vacuum. We're on this Earth to support and serve our fellow man. If there was a problem, he wanted to be part of the solution," Andrea DesCoteaux said. "He had a gruff exterior but he had a lot of compassion behind it. He was our curmudgeon. But there was a reason behind it. He hated waste."
DesCoteaux was an avid reader and enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren. He also was the founder of the Franklin Award and Scholarship for Science Education, a medallion and $1,000 scholarship issued each year to a graduating high school senior in both Kane and DuPage counties.
Gary Johnson, an Aurora defense attorney and family friend who served on a Fermilab committee with DesCoteaux, said he used some of this own money to expand the award and ultimately give back.
"You always knew where he stood. You never had to guess," Johnson said. "He was all about service. That's what he was all about. People called him a curmudgeon. When he retired, I said he gave 'curmudgeon' a good name and I think that's true. I think he would be MVP for the city of Geneva. He did everything for the city. We're going to miss him."
DesCoteaux was founder of the Geneva Beautification Committee, a volunteer group that plants and maintains flower beds at street corners in and around downtown Geneva. It was a common occurrence to see him on weekends clad in overalls working in the gardens. Andrea DesCoteaux said her father loved nature and the community he grew up in was devoid of color and natural beauty.
Dorothy Flanagan, a Geneva council member who serves on the committee, recalled how DesCoteaux would often venture out onto the State Street bridge and lower a water bucket into the Fox River to water flower boxes on the bridge.
"Somebody once said the flowers in Geneva are the icing on the cake. Paul was a visionary when he started that program," Flanagan said. "He was a very generous man. I don't think people saw that side of him. Paul was a person you could trust. He was just a person who felt that everybody could contribute something. He lived his life to the fullest and he had unquestionable integrity."
DesCoteaux's family has invited community members to help celebrate his life from 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Geneva Golf Club, 831 South Street, Geneva. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Geneva Beautification Committee. For more information, visit plantgeneva.org.