Memorial Minute: Louis C. Charland

By Trudo Lemmens


        Louis C. Charland was born in New Orleans on June 30, 1958.  He was the son of Marguerite Pannet-Raymond and Claude Charland, from Montreal and Levis (Quebec), respectively. Professional commitment to health care runs in the family, with a grandmother who was a nurse, and a neurosurgeon grandfather. Louis’ father Claude was a career-diplomat, while Marguerite, who also worked as a policy analyst on international development, was the pillar who kept the family together through the many adventures and relocations. Claude’s early death, when he was ambassador to France in 1993, affected Louis and the family deeply.

        As diplomat children, Louis, sister Anne-Elizabeth and brother Bernard grew up as true cosmopolitans, living in New Orleans, Lagos, Sao Paolo, Ottawa, Brussels, Paris, Rome and Mexico City. Bernard remembers Louis as the “archetypal big brother” who would hold his hand when discovering “new schools, cities and summer camps.” They developed “a private language that was a mash-up of all the countries, schools and cultures of their youth.” Throughout his life, Louis continued to intersperse his English with French, his French with English. French remained for Louis the preferred language for conversations of the heart and for the many epicurean enjoyments. His anglophone friends would often be blessed with a short French expression of love.

        The diplomatic life impacted him in other ways. Louis loved the buzz of big cities, getting lost in colorful neighborhoods, trying out greasy-spoon ethnic restaurants and then making friends salivate with a description or picture of a culinary gem. But he also confessed that for much of his life he found it hard to find a real chez-soi, a sense of being at home. It explains in part a restlessness that characterized a big part of Louis’ life.

        This restlessness was further a reflection of his eclectic mind and his boundless curiosity. In primary school in Brussels he was designated as courier for deliveries during class hours. He later realized it was the director’s way to keep him out of trouble since classes were boring and he couldn’t sit still. “Today I would have been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed a pill,” he’d say.

        Louis abounded with talent. A former co-member of a rock band lauded Louis for how he “made his electric guitar sing.” Problems with his hand forced him to abandon the guitar, but jazz, classical music and French chanson remained a key part of his life. Louis wrote poetry and was also an artist in the kitchen.

        Philosophy became his professional vocation. Louis studied at Carleton University (Ottawa) and Western University (Ontario); he obtained his PhD at the latter in 1989. After working as consultant for the Ontario government, and working in bioethics and philosophy at the hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto, he moved to Montreal where he joined the research group of Benjamin Freedman at McGill University. He would credit “Benjy,” who passed away shortly after supporting his job application, for his trust, which gave him the boost that launched his further academic career.

        The move to London, Ontario, in 1998, and his appointment in the departments of Philosophy and Health Sciences at Western University, were also personally transformative. Just prior to his move, Louis faced a serious health crisis, which he surmounted with the help of his family and in the years since also with support and guidance from AA. AA became a staple in his life and gave him some of his most meaningful friendships and companionship on life’s journey.

        The outpouring of grief and expressions of appreciation from students and colleagues reflect how deeply valued Louis’ work and mentorship was and will continue to be. Louis was one of the original thinkers in the philosophy of emotions and of psychiatry, as well as in bioethics. His articles on the role of emotions in decision-making capacity, and on anorexia nervosa as a passion, and recent work on the concept of émotion in Descartes, to name just a few, are internationally pathbreaking. They reflect intellectual rigor and courage, and a talent for the evocative integration of lived experience in philosophical reflection. In line with his deeply human connection to others, many of his papers are constructed around narratives of experiences with illness and suffering.

        Louis’ work and personal life are firmly intertwined. His own challenges, and his boundless support for those around him, have inspired his work on emotions and passions. Through his work, he also forged deep friendships and connections, including during the special year 2003/2004 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

        This was also the time he met his wife Anna, the person who became his ally and whom he deeply loved in the last two decades of his life. After Anna and their son James joined Louis in London, following their marriage in 2005, Louis found a further sense of purpose and serenity. He confided once how he had never imagined, having always lived as a bachelor, the comfort of daily life with the person he loved. He would talk with wonder and affection about Anna’s amazing cooking and her daily rituals. Louis was a loving father for James as well, whose growth as a confident young man he admired. He increasingly appreciated his life in London, including the ritual of his daily coffee at the diner, his swims, the walks with Anna and the excursions they frequently undertook.

        His work also led him to discover the Quakers. Louis first began attending Meeting for Worship at the Friends Meetinghouse in Sparta, Ontario in 2012. His interest in Quakers began when he was studying the history of psychiatry. He was impressed by the early Quakers’ instrumental role in changing the public’s perception and treatment of people afflicted with mental illness. The peace and tranquility of silent worship suited Louis’ spirit-seeking nature and he attended regularly. In 2013 he requested membership in the Society of Friends and was welcomed with open arms.

        More than once during silent worship Louis was moved to share his deep gratitude for the Quaker community and for the beauty and simplicity of the Meetinghouse itself. On Sunday mornings he often arrived before anyone else to dwell in its quiet sanctity and his presence helped to settle the meeting as people gradually arrived. He never failed to stay after meeting for worship to visit with everyone. Louis shared the results of his cooking adventures with friends at the monthly potluck lunch and conversations with him during these times were enjoyed by all. The Quaker community of Sparta is filled with deep love and gratitude for having known Louis. His kind, gentle and friendly presence will be felt by his friends at the Meetinghouse long into the future.

        All this contributed to Louis’ particular happiness in recent years. He had found a home. He would come to Toronto no longer to escape, as in his early London years, a life that seemed at times too quiet for his restless and inquisitive mind, but to enjoy the presence of friends and family, and to share with Anna the things the big city offers. He was more than ever a supportive husband, brother, friend, colleague and mentor; and a wise and understanding uncle to his nephews and nieces, as well as to our sons. He made plans for special things to do with Anna on semi-retirement. His huge international professional recognition, which pleased Louis, who tended to be too humble and at times somewhat unsure about the level of his accomplishments, inspired plans for various new projects with colleagues. He bubbled with life and energy.

        It seems therefore particularly cruel that he was torn from our lives now and so abruptly. But Louis would invite us, not to understand with reason, but to trust there is a meaning to it all, that he left us on excellent terms and that he is with us on our spiritual journey of acceptance. He’d perhaps suggest finding solace in the wisdom of Blaise Pascal: “La derniere demarche de la raison est de reconnaitre qu’il y a une infinité de choses qui la surpassent. Elle n’est que faible si elle ne va jusqu’à reconnaitre cela. Que si les choses naturelles la surpassent, que dira-t-on des surnaturelles.”  (“The last undertaking of reason is to recognize that there are an infinite number of things that transcend it. It is only weak if it does not recognize that. And if natural things escape it, what do we have to say of the supernatural things.”)

        It has been a real blessing to have Louis, a beautiful soul, in our lives. Sacré Loulou, you leave a gaping hole, but we know you’re on our side when we take the path that lies ahead of us.  


July 29, 2021