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Georges and Mireille Anglade
Georges and Mireille Anglade

Couple 'wanted to make a difference' Add to ...

In two countries over the course of 30 years, Georges and Mireille Anglade sought to drastically alter the world they lived in. And they weren't shy about kicking up a fuss to do it.

He was an adventurous geographer and a high-ranking, outspoken government minister whom many thought would succeed former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide; she was a vocal feminist, a French teacher and a United Nations diplomat.

The Haitian-Canadian couple is believed dead, crushed under the concrete rubble of their family home in Port-au-Prince's Mont Joli-Turgeau neighbourhood. Their daughters and family members around the world fear the worst. But the same crippling lack of emergency resources hampering search-and-rescue missions following the worst quake to hit Haiti in centuries makes it impossible for their family to even verify the couple's death: The rubble of the building they're trapped under can't be moved without the heavy equipment that will take days to arrive in Haiti.

The Montreal couple was visiting the Anglade clan's compound in Port-au-Prince, as they do regularly. News of Tuesday's earthquake immediately put their daughters and other family members on alert.

"[Tuesday]night we heard one of the houses had collapsed, at which point we started worrying," said the Anglade's 35-year-old daughter Dominique, who lives in Montreal.

"We spent the day hoping they would be rescued but ... the available material is not strong enough to lift the concrete that is over their bodies."

It's impossible to say for sure, Ms. Anglade said, but "the likelihood of them being alive was extremely slim."

In the meantime, they've been struggling to communicate with the rest of their extended family in earthquake-pummelled Haiti.

"We have managed to get news through the web, and sometimes the phone lines. SMS, Messenger - we've tried everything."

It would be the end of an eventful life journey for the Haitian-Canadian couple.

They never meant to settle permanently in Canada: The college sweethearts originally wanted to spend just a few years in Quebec after graduating from university in Strasbourg in 1969 after finishing graduate school in France. But Jean-Claude "Bébé Doc" Duvalier made returning to Haiti less than palatable.

"The plan didn't work out," Dominique Anglade said wryly.

Mr. Anglade incurred the dictator's wrath while doing a geological survey of Haiti in a helicopter in 1974, as part of his research for a book - the first of what would be dozens.

"That is very often, under dictatorship, associated with invasion," Ms. Anglade said.

He was jailed - "there wasn't any such thing as a charge," his daughter said - and released shortly after. But he vowed not to set foot in the country until Mr. Duvalier was ousted.

There, Mr. Anglade was a prominent geography professor at the Universite de Quebec a Montreal. Ms. Anglade taught French to high-school students. The couple raised their two daughters, Dominique and Pascale, in Montreal.

It wasn't under the rise of Mr. Aristide that the Anglades returned to Haiti - this time under far less ignominious circumstances.

Mr. Anglade became a prominent minister in Mr. Aristide's government in 1995, replacing a predecessor tainted by the military regime that had deposed Mr. Aristide in 1991. At the time, some news reports called the Haitian-Canadian geography professor a potential "heir apparent" to Mr. Aristide.

"Someone with a democratic vision was needed," Mr. Anglade told the Associated Press at the time, "someone who can foresee the needs of the coming century."

As minister, he vociferously fought Mr. Aristide's own privatization plans, arguing the publicly owned businesses were crucial to Haiti's national sovereignty.

Ms. Anglade, her daughter said, capitalized on her PhD in economics and her outspoken feminism to land a job with the United Nations. She monitored the status of women in Haiti, and wrote extensively on the significance of Haitian women in the country's economy.

The family returned to Canada with the next regime change. Even after Mr. Aristide left power, however, Mr. Anglade remained in the former president's trusted coterie of advisers.

Paul Philippe Anglade last spoke with his older brother via Skype from Seoul, South Korea. They discussed plans to set up a school for underprivileged kids, and who would host the launch party for the photography book whose proceeds would fund it (Georges wound up offering his house).

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Dominique Anglade said the family is reeling from both the earthquake's personal blow, and its national horror.

"On a personal level, yeah. For us, personally, we lost a number of members of our family and it's a personal disaster," she said. "But at a national level, it's truly a disaster. We have to think of all the children that lost their parents, we have to think about all the parents that can't find their children. ...

"It's personal, but it goes way beyond the personal level."

Multiple times in a strained, midnight phone conversation, Ms. Anglade pauses. There are some questions about her parents' stories whose answers she doesn't know, she says, and "I realize these are things I'll never have answers to."

But memories?

"There are thousands.

"They wanted to make a difference in the world - in their world. I think they did, at different levels," she said. "They were wonderful parents. And I don't say this because they passed away. They were wonderful, truly wonderful parents. And we were extremely lucky to have them."

 

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