Remembering my Lake San Marcos neighbor

Roland "Ron" Bouchard in July 2019/KFMB screenshot

Our next-door neighbor died last night. But he was much more than a neighbor. He was a best friend, a father figure, and a 103 year-old icon of a life well-lived.

Karen and I met him when we moved in to this retirement community two years ago. He stopped us as we passed on the sidewalk in front of our new home. He was pushing his walker. We smiled and said hello. After I shook his hand, he reached for Karen’s, bowing as he raised the back of her hand to his lips. I said to myself, I hope our neighbor’s not a jerk.

The courtly Roland “Ron” Bouchard was not a jerk. In the two years we were his neighbors, we grew to love him and his four daughters as members of our own family.

Before COVID-19 hit, we shared a table with him at Sunday champagne brunches, where he entertained in the dining hall by playing his old-favorite pieces on the piano. When we were occasionally unable to join him, we let him know by leaving notes on his door from “the kids next door.”

When we learned that twenty years ago he wrote his autobiography, My Time in the Twentieth Century, making 25 copies for his family and friends, we asked if we could read it. He agreed.

We were so impressed with his writing skills and the story he told about his growing up in the 1920’s in the same neighborhood as future President Calvin Coolidge, his 25 years in the Navy during two wars, rising from enlisted man to Lieutenant Commander, followed by 25 years as a major department store manager, we asked if we could publish it on Amazon. He agreed.

As I came to know Ron I became closer to him because of shared experiences. He attended a Catholic grade school, where he had some disciplinary problems with the nuns, as did I with Sister Ursula, who sentenced me to hours of kneeling in the hall for misbehavior in class.

Most astonishing of all, the tuxedo he bought 60 years ago now hangs in my closet, a perfect fit. It became mine last year, after the Château held its annual gala anniversary celebration. Ron loaned it to me for the event. When I returned it, he refused to accept it, telling me if I didn’t want it I could throw it away.

My father passed away several years ago. He would have been two years younger than Ron. But I have felt as close to Ron as I did to him. I had no sisters, and since Ron has no sons, last year I asked him if he would adopt me. He gave me one of his famous long stares, but didn’t answer. I took that as a yes and will continue to wear Dad’s tuxedo to the Chateau’s gala events.


After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, Richard Riehl began a second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for his opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press. For more, visit The Riehl World.

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