Louis LaHaye, 79, was a constant friendly presence
A plaintive note, nailed to the door of the Post Office was the first indication Friday morning that downtown White River Junction had lost a dear friend.
Itinerant house painter Paul Bouchard didn't know his friend's last name, just that he'd died sometime overnight after a short stay at a nursing home following a massive stroke which had struck him down right in the midst of doing what he was best known for locally: stopping to chat with one of his abundant collection of acquaintances old and young.
Bouchard, who has only been in the Upper Valley for the past three months, reached out the only way he knew how, by posting signs up and down North Main Street asking if by chance anyone else knew "Louie."
The answer was a resounding `Yes,' everyone knew Louie and they immediately realized what Bouchard's almost poem-like note meant for those who'd loved turning a corner or walking into almost any coffee shop in the region to find Louie there calling out "Heeeey, whatcha doin'?" in his beyond gravelly voice.
Louis LaHaye was born in Lebanon and grew up as one of a dozen siblings. Aside from his years in the Army where he was a water purification specialist, he was a man who spent his life in the Upper Valley working at varied jobs over the years from White River Paper to cooking at the Polka Dot Diner.
"He's done everything," diner owner Mary Shatney, LaHaye's long-time partner, recalled Friday shortly after learning of his death.
"He always played it cool and he was a tough old bird. He survived cancer more than once," recalled Rick Laflam, who owns The Vermonter Hotel where LaHaye resided for years.
What amazed those who knew Louie was not just how much coffee he could drink in a day's time but at how many places he could do it. It was possible to bump into him sitting with a friend at a table in Hanover in the morning and then White River Junction a few hours later and then turn a corner at the VA Hospital or Dartmouth Hitchcock and find him laughing over another cup of coffee with a nurse or a friend.
"He's just one of those people who was a fixture on the sidewalks or in the lobby of the hotels here," Boucher said Friday. "There is a triangle of park benches he'd alternate each day and if he had extra sandwiches he'd hand them out to people. He always had a smile and he liked to laugh. We'd have coffee and just talk about everything and nothing. He just enjoyed being outside and seeing all the people."