Hank Lemoine, 73

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 11:15am

Hank Lemoine, man of integrity, intelligence, inquisitiveness, and inspiration, passed away peacefully at his Block Island home at the age of 73.

Hank came to Block Island in early 1980 and knew he had found his home. His passion for flora and fauna, ocean waters, dark night skies and all things science would grow and flourish in this place. Early evenings found him casting lures and thrilling to the fight of striped bass on his hook. The black heavens provided a canvas for the planets and stars he came to adopt and speak of with such fondness.

Hank’s love of nature was contagious; he shared his knowledge with any and everyone, fostering respect and stewardship for this fragile ecosystem. In early1982, he was recruited by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to develop and lead island nature walks. The next months were spent learning the geology and natural history of the island, from its glacial creation to the rare flora found in obscure places. He studied the plant life and experimented with wild edibles, often to his wife Toni’s consternation. His night sky viewing fueled his passion for the heavens and his telescope sessions yielded dozens of awe-inspired observers. From childhood Hank had a deep-seated interest in rocketry and he followed the space program with keen interest and wonderment. Thus he easily fell into model rocketry, creating a program in his science curriculum to build and launch them. His years of teaching in Hawaii and Block Island left their mark in the number of un-retrieved rockets hidden in unseen places.

Hank’s delight in nature and science was no accident. The son of a pharmacist in the days when they created their own tinctures, ointments and potions, Hank had access to chemicals not readily available to most youth. He relished combining them and studying their reactions, and interactions. The family basement and yard bore the brunt of many of his experiments. His fascination with chemistry never diminished and his students were often treated to some dazzling chemical displays.

Although he grew up in suburbia, Hank managed to find pockets of woods to explore and investigate, and always, always found fishing holes. His bike and fishing pole ever at the ready on a summer’s day, Hank delighted in catching, studying, and identifying fish and sharing fish stories with his friends. This love followed him through college where he majored in biology and chemistry, and into graduate school where it propelled him to fisheries biology.

Shortly after graduation from University of Rhode Island in 1968, Hank enlisted in the Army, hoping to get into the Chemical Corp or a branch of the service that could utilize his biological background. Unfortunately, his special branch orders went astray and he ended up in the infantry, slogging his way through the muddy waters of Vietnam’s delta. A college graduate, while most of his group were teens, Hank was considered an old man and respected for his keen eye and calm, prudent decisions in difficult situations. Little did he know that his time in Vietnam would one day take its toll. Agent Orange, a liberally used defoliant, now known for causing health problems in those exposed, left him with many effects. While Hank may not have died in Vietnam, on July 7, 2020, half a century later, he certainly died because of it. 

From Vietnam, Hank was stationed on Oahu, Hawaii. There he began his teaching career, later assuming the role of Principal, but always maintaining his preference for the classroom. After the birth of their first son, Micah, he and Toni returned to Rhode Island where Seth and Rachel were born. All three children were young when the move to the island took place, a move that was never regretted.

Although he was not a sports enthusiast, in his late 40s he discovered the exhilaration of running. The hilly island terrain was an ideal training ground and daily runs became routine, with long weekend runs a challenge and joy. He thrived on racing with by-standers cheering him on, and sought out grueling half marathons to test his mettle. An impressive collection of tee shirts serves as testimony to his many races.

Hank’s decades of teaching on the island are notable for the number of students he impacted in so many ways. From those who went into the medical or other science related fields, to those who fondly remember him using the island as their classroom, his influence cannot be minimized. A humble man, Hank made his mark not by his outspokenness, but by his quiet and reverent approach to his students and to his subject matter. 

On July 7, Hank took his final breath, peacefully and contentedly on the island he so loved. When asked recently how he would want to be remembered, he simply replied “That I was kind.” And, indeed, that is how most people describe him. An extraordinary man who was above all, kind. The world is a better place for his having been a part of it.

He will be profoundly missed by his wife, Toni, their children, Micah, Seth, and Rachel, and grandchildren Kahala, Ezekiel, Wyatt, Tess, and Elias. An island Celebration of Life will be held in September.