‘I wish I knew him’: childhood memories of a father she barely knew who she lost on the Ocean Ranger 40 years ago

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ST. JOHN’S, NL — Editor’s note: Ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Ocean Ranger disaster, The Telegram will remember some of the victims and highlight the safety issues that came to light afterwards.

Melissa Maurice’s voice breaks on the phone as she talks about the father she barely knew.

Forty years cannot erase the pain.

“It’s clearly still very emotional,” said Melissa, who was just 4 and a half when her father, Michael Maurice, and 83 other men were lost on the Ocean Ranger when it sank on February 15, 1982. Michael’s remains were never recovered.

Her childhood memories are of her mother, Jocelyne, sitting at the kitchen table listening to the news on the radio, hoping for news of survivors, then collapsing when the search was called off.

“I would sit with my mum and we would rock in our favorite blue chair and wait for him to come home. … We would sit there and look out the window and rock in the chair and wait for him to come home,” she said.

Melissa remembers refusing to eat for several days after realizing her father wouldn’t be coming back.

Her mother made sure that Melissa and her brother, Jason, then six, knew all about their father and how wonderful he was.

“Just amazing. He was nice to us kids. He was funny. He was helpful,” Melissa said.

Her father helped around the house, taking over her mother’s most hated task: cleaning the toilets.

“He would go do that for her,” Melissa said.

When he returned from the platform, his parents dated decades before the phrase “date” was ever a thing.

“We definitely missed a lot of things. I would like to know him,” says Melissa, a paralegal in Peterborough, Ontario.


Melissa Maurice of Peterborough, Ontario, was just 4½ years old when her father, Michael, was lost on the Ocean Ranger. – Contributed


Strong woman

Melissa says she is in awe of her mother, who also lost her own mother six months later in 1982. Two years after the disaster, Jocelyne moved to Ontario with her children to be closer to her family.

“She was tough. … She raised my brother and me to be decent people,” Melissa said.

She remembers her father encouraging her and Jason to do somersaults over the bed – something that also sticks out in Jocelyne’s mind.

“I walked up the stairs and heard the screams and the laughter. …I thought, oh boy, better take them to the gym,” said Jocelyne, who like Michael, was a hairdresser.

They met when Jocelyne went to work at the LaCoupe salon in Montreal, Quebec, where Michael was an instructor. They eventually moved to St. John’s for jobs at John Jacques in Churchill Square, as the couple disagreed with separatism, which was a political force in Quebec at the time.

But the money from two barber salaries was not enough for the family, and they were in debt. Michael got an interview to be a roustabout on the platform.

“It allowed us to have a better way of life,” says Jocelyne.

There were happy family times – they would pack up their Honda Civics and drive to the beach in the winter, turn the heat on high and roll down the windows so they could hear and feel the waves and have a picnic in the car with the children.

In January 1982, Michael returned home and seemed depressed.

“I kept asking him why, and he didn’t talk about it much,” says Jocelyne.

He finally told her he had saved a man’s life – how the man was doing and Michael grabbed his jumpsuit with the other roustabouts rushing to help him.

The Offshore Drilling and Exploration Co. (ODECO) gave Michael a small pin in appreciation.

They had been together for 15 years, married for a dozen, when the platform fell apart. He was 32 years old.

She still cries and she still misses him.

“His kindness, his patience. He had a wonderful sense of humor. …I felt loved. I felt appreciated,” she said of her husband.


Jocelyne Maurice of Lindsay, Ontario was a young mother of two young children when her husband, Michael, perished on the Ocean Ranger.  - Contributed
Jocelyne Maurice of Lindsay, Ontario was a young mother of two young children when her husband, Michael, perished on the Ocean Ranger. – Contributed


“It didn’t happen”

The morning he returned to the rig, there had been a heavy snowstorm and he was pushing the car out.

She had a terrible feeling and asked him not to go, but he felt he had to work.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you come back and forget about it?’ … That was the last time we saw him, the last time we spoke to him,” Jocelyne said.

At 8 a.m. on February 15, she received a phone call from a woman who told her that the company had lost contact with the platform.

Clients who had become friends sat with her all day as the recovery effort continued.

“I kept saying, ‘That didn’t happen, he’ll walk down this street,'” she said.

For six months, she believed in it.

The effect on her was profound – she would go to the mall and leave the car running with the doors locked.

Jocelyne credits the help of good doctors in St. John’s for getting her through it all.

“I felt incredibly understood. I felt supported,” she said.

Adopted by the community

Neighbors and friends from St. John’s, including people she didn’t even know she knew, gathered around the family.

In the days following the disaster, members of the Mainland family came to the aid.

“People behind the counter (at the airport) asked them, ‘Are you here for the Ocean Ranger?’ “recalls Jocelyne. “(The staff) were so friendly and kind.

There was always food on the doorstep, even gifts for the children.

A year after the tragedy, friends gave her and her children the use of their condo in Florida for a break.

When the musical “Come From Away” came out, she was thrilled that more people around the world were learning how welcoming Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are to others.

“I don’t think there’s a province in Canada that I would go back to other than bad weather,” said Jocelyne. “But people are making up for this bad weather.”

Through the investigation, Jocelyne later learned how dangerous the rig was and how poorly managed it was.

“It’s so sad that 84 lives had to perish for training that should have been done. After 40 years, it’s still a thorn in my side,” she said.

“The anger I felt after the first two years was unprecedented.”

Wintering in Florida, she would have gladly flown with her children to the 40th birthday ceremony, but their plans were canceled by logistical complications from COVID-19.

“We are with him in spirit. We are with the families in spirit,” she said.

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