I MET JEAN HOUDE IN 1998 WHILE ATTENDING A HOUSING-INDUSTRY EVENT. A CONSTRUCTION ENTREPRENEUR IN HIS LATE THIRTIES, HE HAD A BEAUTIFUL FAMILY OF FOUR CHILDREN. THIS YOUNG CONTRACTOR, A GRADUATE OF THE UNIVERSITE DE SHERBROOKE, IMPRESSED ME WITH HIS NONCHALANT ATTITUDE ABOUT MONEY. HE CARED MORE ABOUT HIS CLIENTS’ SATISFACTION AND HIS FAMILY’S WELL-BEING THAN ABOUT ACCUMULATING PERSONAL WEALTH – SURPRISING FOR SOMEONE FROM A FIELD FULL OF WHEELER-DEALERS.
Today, the 51-year-old has not changed, despite the tragedy that struck one morning at work while he was between meetings. His wife called from the St-Justine Hospital Center and broke the news to him that his youngest daughter, their sixth child, was suffering from leukemia. The night that followed was a nightmare, but by the next morning Houde began to deal with the matter in his own way, the same way he had always dealt with matters – by taking it one day at a time and by doing what the circumstances dictated. He began spending his nights at the hospital, following the progress of the treatments, and comforting his 18-month-old baby girl.
Annie was in danger of dying. The prognosis wasn’t good; it would take a bone-marrow transplant to save her. Martin, one of her brothers, a vigorous boy, was a compatible donor. He offered to donate the life-saving marrow despite being no more than a child himself. A long ordeal had begun for the wee girl, but with her constitution of steel, she weathered it valiantly. She recovered fully and today the healthy 9-year-old is one of the spokesperson for a foundation that assists those fighting cancer.
Her father saw an opportunity to develop one of his old hobbies – that of helping others. He had supported charitable causes before Annie’s illness, so now he simply changed his cause… and some of his predispositions. A sedentary man who detested sports, he started to practice highly demanding sports such as long-distance biking and mountain climbing to raise funds for his new cause – the Centre de cancérologie Charles-Bruneau foundation. A meeting with Pierre Bruneau led to a kinship between the two generous souls that would lead them to Mount Everest, Kilimanjaro, and Machu Picchu!
Mr. Houde is proud of the money he has raised for this worthy cause thanks to his clients, suppliers, and friends. Each year he aims to be the top fundraiser. He wasn’t designed for these extreme sports and he isn’t crazy about them either, but he looks upon the discomforts associated with mountain trekking as a necessity. He undergoes medical tests before leaving on his excursions. He can become sick during a trek and may require medication or oxygen to recover. He just does what he has to do – no questions asked. To his great pleasure, his wife accompanies and supports in on each and every expedition.
For Houde, collecting and climbing are a means to an end: making people happy. He always reacts in the same way, whether in his professional or private life. Just call him Mr. No-problem. It’s as if he takes some sneaky pleasure in giving, even if doing so requires long hours of hard work. His only concern is the outcome. Though he describes himself as awkward, he couldn’t be more charming, and he remains, above all, honest, simple, and generous.
When asked to identify his passion, he doesn’t mention ‘sick children’ or ‘arduous challenges’. He reflects before confessing that he doesn’t really have one. Then he changes his mind and mentions his love of wine. But, he hastens to add, he can’t drink too much because he has a long ride coming up in four days, and then he wonders why he even does this. He sums up by mentioning that he and his team are looking for some uncommon physical activities for their fundraising. Of course, there are those two other mountains he’d like to climb: one in Russia and the other one “somewhere in Africa.” It isn’t always easy keeping up with this big-hearted man.
He dismisses his humanitarian commitment, saying that for him it’s easy because his little Annie is alive and well, and because he has five other beautiful children, as well as his beloved wife who he has known since he was 17, and his construction company that is already fully booked for the upcoming year, and of course his devoted employees. I guess you could say that his true passion is simply… living.
Photos: Michel Cloutier
Everest April 2010
Kilimandjaro Januaryr 2009
Machu Picchu May 2011