Marie Racine became a treasured friend soon after we met in the early 90’s. For a decade, I was a D.C. attorney representing the constitutional government of Haiti’s President Aristide, both here in Washington and in Port-au Prince. Marie was a wonderful guide and obviously a talented teacher. She patiently tutored me, as I came to appreciate the Haitian people, their thirst for freedom from domestic or U.S. oppression, their wry sense of humor, and the incredible creativity of their beautiful culture, I trusted her insights when I was puzzled by arcane relationships and new developments; and I admired her dedication to liberty for all Haitians.
I also learned why this was not surprising. Her uncle, Father Antoine Adrien, was, in a real sense, the father of democracy in Haiti and Aristide’s mentor. Despite his fierce advocacy, he was widely respected by many across the political spectrum. This was vividly clear when I flew from Miami to Port-au-Prince. My seat mates — Haitian “grand dames” from Petionville, and wealthy businessmen — might scornfully dismiss Aristide and leaders in his government; but when Adrien came up, their reply often changed to one of respect and admiration, especially from those who remembered him as an educator. During fraught negotiations on Governor’s Island and at the U.N., President Bush’s minions made fatal mistakes when they tried to denigrate his views, which was met by embarrassing silence, even from the illegal Junta’s representatives! He became one of my heroes. During his first serious illness in the mid-90’s, I visited him at Marie’s.Each time I was struck by her devotion, as she tenderly, but firmly, nursed him.
The Racine family values clearly devolve well. After 50 years immersion in government and politics, I am cynically suspicious of campaign promises and announced “reforms.” Marie’s son Karl, was still young on my visits to her home on Nebraska Avenue. But it has not surprised me to watch him easily transfer from corporate law practice into a public champion of civil rights, civil liberties, and consumer protection. I remember Marie’s great pride when we chatted at his fundraiser.
Two memories of my privilege to know Marie stand out. Louise and I made the mistake — not completely in our control — of having both our children’s weddings within six weeks. At their small joint engagement party in our backyard, I thoroughly enjoyed introducing Marie to my family and friends, and introducing them to her.
The second time, was a lengthy lunch at a cafe patio on 14th Street, after she and some other former close allies of Aristide had become disenchanted with aspects of his presidential tenure. We differed in our understanding of these developments and our interpretations of their implication for Haiti’s future. Still, as always, Marie indulged a novice from New Jersey “mansplaining” Haiti to her, with her inveterate patience, kindness and warmth.
I was deeply saddened by Marie’s long illness. I will miss her.
Burton Wides, Esquire