A Chance Encounter With The Extraordinary

The summer air hung heavy and dusty in the crowded passenger area at the Cairo airport in the early 1980s. I decided to stretch my legs while waiting for a flight.
I noticed a tall, elegant white woman seated on a narrow bench in the midst of the bustle. A small, butternut brown man lay stretched out on the bench, his bald head resting on her lap. Both looked stressed and wilted. The elderly couple seemed out of place, ignored by the stream of passengers. Something inside me tapped my brain. These folks needed help.
“Are you all right?” I said. “Can I do anything for you?”
“My husband is not feeling well,” she said. “I can’t leave him. He is dizzy and confused.”
“I’m no doctor but with this heat, he may be dehydrated. I’ll go get you some bottled water.”
Within a few minutes, I delivered three bottles of water. She thanked me and introduced herself and her husband.
“I am Lady Marie Dupuch. This is my husband Sir Etienne Dupuch.”
Several days later I met the Dupuchs at a dinner reception for travelers taking boat trips on the Nile River. He had recovered and thanked me for saving his life——which was a gross overstatement for a small act of kindness on my part.
I n 1982 he sent me a personal note and signed copy of his newly published autobiography A Salute to Friend and Foe. From this book I gleaned fascinating details of his life and plucked out some humorous little stories of Private 6042 Dupuch. Or, as he called himself, “a romantic greenhorn, drawn from a small backwoods community of an inconspicuous island of the western hemisphere.” The orphaned seventeen year old volunteered for the British West Indies Regiment at a time when all the officers were white and British.
In 1916 he found himself on a transport ship steaming across the Mediterranean Sea into German submarine infested waters. For added protection, a heavy gun had been mounted on the front of the vessel. Determined to escape the hellish hot conditions below deck, Private Dupuch and a friend volunteered to man the gun at night if the U-boat alarm was sounded. He found himself a cozy little room where canvas was stored and soon fell asleep.
He dreamed that two men opened the door and said, “One is already here.” In the morning, he woke up next to a naked dead body. Etienne realized the room with the stored canvas was used to sew bags for burial at sea. He fled from his hideaway.
The lowly private, fresh off a troop transport that had docked in Alexandria, Egypt, was ordered to report for a formal parade assembly of 1000 British army soldiers in Egypt. The British officers in charge of debarkation, anxious to integrate the new troops into the assembly, decided to pass the delousing station required of all arriving soldiers. Etienne ended up in the front rank thanks to a confusion of command orders.
One fat louse crawled across his sweating chest and fell down to his navel. He dropped his rifle, squished the bug and pitched forward to the ground. When he heard the claim from other soldiers standing at attention that a private had fainted, he decided to stay down. Four men were dispatched to carry him to the doctor. Etienne played dumb and claimed that he was still dizzy. The puzzled doctor ordered a week’s rest from duty for the confused soldier.
Later, on lonely guard duty in the Sahara, he became sick and ended up in the hospital where he languished for several weeks, unable to recover. One day, an English nurse sat down at his bedside.
“Do you have any last thoughts you would like me to write home to your people?”
Etienne reported that he got better immediately.
The man lived a charmed life. He survived four attempts on his life, was given the Catholic rite of Extreme Unction three times and was told five time by doctors that he was dying. After dodging German U-boats, cannon shells, bullets, political intrigue and various brushes with death, Sir Etienne Dupuch died at the age of 92 in his garden while trying to kill a colony of ants. Lady Dupuch lived to be 100 and died peacefully at her home.
I realized after reading his book that I had met one of the world’s most interesting men. He held the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest serving newspaper editor. Fifty-four years as owner/editor of The Tribune of Nassau, Bermuda. Honored and awarded by ten nations. A poor island boy of color who survived three years of battles in WWI and in 1928 married a white schoolteacher from Pennsylvania with a love that lasted a lifetime.
A man who called himself a loner yet labored for over fifty years to eliminate racial discrimination in Bermuda and around the world.
Strong opinions and an iron backbone gained him both friends and enemies. He was quite content to shake up conventional wisdom and slay perceived dragons. He summed up his life journey in the forward to his autobiography.
“Thus, in this book I salute friend and foe alike. May God bless my friends. I can only hope that He doesn’t frown too darkly on me if, in a moment when I think He might not be looking, I damn my opponents.”
You have to admire such a feisty and accomplished man.

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