Posted by: alexhickey | September 28, 2015

Thinking of Phonse Farrell This Cold Morning, September 27, 2015©

Man playing bohran

Phonse Farrell 1959-2015

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you–just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.”
― Shel Silverstein

And listen he did! He listened to the rhythms of rushing waters and lapping waves, wintry winds and the choirs of evergreens dripping in spring thaw. He listened as a child to the cadent voice and wisdom of Teacher Tom, his grandfather, and the stories of his Uncle Jack. Even when he seemed distracted he listened, and made sense of his world in Bay du Nord, St. Jacques, North Sydney, St. John’s, Halifax, Glovertown, Badger and Grand Falls.

Where he listened most intently and where he grounded himself most strongly was St. Jacques. There, on the hill, on a plot of land once chosen by community leaders and officials to be the most prestigious location for a splendorous church, he propitiously set down roots. Here he listened to the silence, the undertow, the night sky and the voices of two generations before him passing through his life. In their voices he found heritage, belonging, comfort and solace, wisdom and love. Through all of that listening he found his voice. It wasn’t one that shouted and screamed or one which grated on your ears. It was quiet, resolved, softly spoken and respectful.

He thought a lot, reflected deeply and made friends. Most of the time he chose his words carefully, knowing well the power of language. Often, he effortlessly used silence to convey meaning without fearing slight or indifference. Phonse was a writer, a poet, a man who heard rhythms in a drum outside the norm.

He was one of us, one with us and one among us, a brother, a trusted friend, one loved by us all, one treasured, valued and respected for his unique spirit and fortitude. As often as one opened arms and welcomed him in, he still stood alone, maintaining a defined space all his own, a comfort zone which helped definition of self and others. It wasn’t aloofness, nor was it disdain; rather, it was part identity, part personality, part independence and a great deal of knowing himself. He was as simple as he was complex and as transparent as he was enigmatic.

He loved the ocean, the fishing, the life of the sea and all that it encompassed. He was there to greet fishermen, lend a hand with their morning catch and share in their success or failure as much as he was there for the students in his classrooms. He valued learning for its intrinsic and cultural value, placing the academic and vernacular on equal footing. The things he learned in the dory with his Uncle Fred probably carried more weight than any acquired in school.

Family carried special meaning for Phonse, expansive and inclusive, yet full of nuance. He was fortunate to be in the midst of two prolific families, the Hickey’s and the Farrells. Where they overlapped he flourished, grew and gave thanks. Though many ways measured, he was unconditional, dependable, likable, sociable and partied hard; one of the first to congratulate and one of the last to criticize.

Phonse Farrell was a fortunate man, one who found the love of a lifetime in his wife Donna; a love that allowed them to traverse the three worlds of St. Jacques, Grand Falls and Bay du Nord. Prior to his retirement in June of this year his visits home were seasonal and occasional. This year his summer bled into fall overlooking the harbour, celebrating the transition into retirement with Donna at his side. Time was taking on new meaning, new boundaries and new expectations and even new work.

Ever supportive of community and ever convinced of the integrity and strength of St. Jacques, Phonse supported and respected the efforts of others to bring about change and develop new ideas. When a Harbour Authority was imagined he was encouraging; when a new vision for St. Jacques Island was emerging he was interested and excited. During the last two years as the St. Jacques Island Heritage Corporation moved towards acquisition of the island he wanted to be apprised of all progress and was always there to offer assistance. In August when I needed to visit the island to secure light keeper records he was quick to provide transportation. While I went ashore and carried out my tasks Phonse stayed with his boat in the lee of the island and pondered its history, its present and its future.

After boarding he asked to see the documents. We browsed through the daily logs of such light keepers as Johnny Bullen, Charles Jim Sheppard and Walter Strowbridge and discussed how valuable these mundane records had become over time and how important they were now as tangible traces of lives lived on the island. I remarked that perhaps I was being a bit foolish and indulgent to even consider their preservation. He looked at me and said, “Somebody’s got to do it old man. It may as well be you, because once ‘tis lost ‘tis gone. Someone has to think about future generations.”

When I heard yesterday that Phonse had breathed his last breath on St. Jacques Island lending assistance to protecting the light keeper’s house from winter elements I was devastated, distraught and to be honest, angry that he had been taken from us so soon. In the typical way that we humans respond to death my first thoughts were of those things that wouldn’t be, those words that would never be said and all those things that would never now be done. Then, upon reflection, my response changed for there is no turning back of the clock, no undoing what’s been done and no way to prevent those things we are not privy to knowing in advance.

I thought about Phonse; thought about how a poet deserves a poetic death, about the poignancy of how he built his house in St. Jacques on the soil of one of the most symbolic and powerful buildings the community has ever known. I thought of the place of observation that location afforded him and how it suited his disposition. I thought of how that location is now referred to as Phonse Farrell’s place; no longer is it called the site of the old Catholic Church.

I reflected on my relationship with him and the mutual respect we had for each other and how supportive and encouraging he had been towards my initiatives over the years including his more than positive comments around my blog postings here on All Things St. Jacques.
Those reflections brought me to a different place, to a place of acceptance and recognition of the role Phonse has played in all of our lives in St. Jacques and in our families. We have little control over the timing of our final day, no more than we have over how it will play out. However, to have crossed that threshold on St. Jacques Island, the beacon which has served the people of St. Jacques for hundreds of years, in the presence of lifelong friends and family members doing a generous act of kindness on behalf of the community, leaves me with some sense that the poet does meet a poetic end.

If I look back at the quote from Shel Silverstein at the beginning of this piece, where he says, “No teacher, preacher, parent, friend or wise man can decide what’s right for you – just listen to the voice that speaks inside,” I think of Phonse and how he chose to live his life and I know he did listen to that voice within. I applaud him for doing so and celebrate those years he was able share with us. Yet, I cannot help but regret those years that will never come. Goodbye, my friend!

Alphonsus Farrell, Central Funeral Home, Grand Falls-Windsor


  1. A touching tribute to Phonse. I never knew him. I wish I had….John Burke

  2. Beautiful

  3. Very touching but yet, an awesome tribute to a man who touched the hearts and souls of many people. Will always be remembered and spoke of fondly. Godspeed My friend.

  4. Very touching Alex. Sad to hear he died so young.

  5. A wonderful tribute to Phonse, Alex. I was very saddened to hear the news of his passing.
    Jeanette Mifflin (Hynes)

  6. Beautiful words. what a wonderful tribute to a fine young man.

  7. A wonderful tribute to our friend Phonse, Alex. He was always smiling, that’s how I will remember him. He will be missed by all. God Bless.

  8. Alex, a very well written tribute to a man who was more like a family member to us all. St Jacques has lost another great man.

  9. A fine tribute to a great man. He would be honored. Sending condolences to you and his family on behalf of the Town of Badger where he touched the lives of many youth. God Speed Phonse.

  10. This is beautiful. Thank you for writing it.

  11. Great tribute to a great man and friend. Hugs Donna !

  12. This is beautiul Alex….Well written….We didn’t know Phonse, but know that could he read this, he would be proud. What a tribute to your friend. Judy & Brian

  13. Phonse taught at Carmel Collegiate in Norris Arm for several years, he always wanted the best for his students, expanding their view of the world. He even thought of us when he became Principal at Badger by bringing the basketball team to our school for a game. I spoke to him then and it was as if he never left. Great sport and great cook I remember his fish chowder , yummy. Phonse always took time to say hello whenever you bumped into him, never in a hurry, this to me was Phonse….a quiet, humble man who knew what he wanted and when the time was right how to achieve it.
    Lynda Langdon

  14. A beautiful tribute to our big brother from another mother ……We the six Farrell girls have been deeply touched by our Newfoundland roots ……May Aunt Gen and Wife Donna find comfort in knowing Phonse touched the lives of so many people on his short journey in life …..God Bless !
    Love Monica, Donna, Wanda, Anita, Brenda, Leona.

  15. Fantastic tribute to Phonse Alex . He was a great ambassador for St Jacques . We had a lot of great times there socializing with your dad, Pat, Fred. I just know that he is going to be greatly missed down there, but he was where he always wanted to be . we got to know a lot of good people there. On behalf of the Hiscock family and myself we thank you for those fine words about our friend and brother in law. He will always be in our thoughts and hearts

  16. I was lucky enough to spend his last week together with Phonse and Donna at St. Jacques. By the way my name is Bernie Farrell first cousin of Phonse from N.S. And a proud Newfie from Bay Du Nord. It’s only the last couple of years that I was able to spend time with him and this year we spent a week together. It was the best week that I had in years. The best day was when he took me back to Bay Du Nord and he was so proud to take me there. When I look back on that day he said that today was the day that we were going. It seemed that he knew that something was going to happen. He stood at the front of his boat and said. Bernie we are going home. As we neared Bay Du Nord there was a glow over him and when we went up the river a bit he made a comment. There is no better place on earth than here and God couldn’t have made it any better. As we headed back I could see that far away look on his face and that feeling came over me also. We looked at each other but didn’t say a word for a few minutes. On our way back we talked about next year and what he was going to do at Indian Point. Sadly to say that we would never be able to fulfill that dream. Phonse was more like a brother than a cousin and we all miss him dearly. God bless you Phonse and we miss you very much.

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