Hilaire Joseph “Joe” LaBerge Jr.
Colbert, WA - December 6, 1937 - January 8, 2021
Hilaire Joseph “Joe” LaBerge Jr’s life could only be described as extraordinarily-lived. Born in Rumford, ME, one of the constants throughout Joe’s life was hard work, no doubt patterned after his parents, who both grew up as orphans. By the age of seven, Joe's school holidays were spent lumber-jacking with his father in Maine’s forests, and after his family’s move to Long Beach, CA, where Joe attended high school, he continued to work extracurricularly at least forty hours a week (and as his admiring sister, Annette, would point out, seemingly effortlessly still achieving top grades). Turning down a full scholarship to Harvard in favor of starting a family with his first wife, Benita Miller, Joe studied chemistry at UCLA, while concurrently employed in two full-time jobs, often sleeping only a couple of hours a night while supporting his young family, including his four adored daughters, Heather, Jennifer, Nicole, and Krislyn. By his mid-twenties, Joe's drive, together with his gifted intellect and charm, led him through a stunning diversity of positions: Truck Driver, Liquor Sales Manager, Maître D’, Bank Assistant Manager, Nuclear Testing Grounds Soils Researcher (USAF), Chemist (Montrose Chemical, while also independently inventing aviation manufacturing lubricants with his father that are still in use today), and serving as a key negotiator/planner for Autonetics/North American Aviation/Rockwell’s role in the design/manufacturing of the USAF/USN F-111 fighter. As his career progressed, Joe became known for his leadership efficacy as the CEO of numerous global corporations, and he had endless anecdotes stemming from doing business in most of the world’s countries: learning to fly a DC-10 while serving as the President of an aviation flight simulator company; top level negotiations on three continents between Ford and Saab; bartering with Gaddafi’s government in Libya; celebrations throughout the world with his long-time business partner, Henry; and in typical “Joe fashion,” accepting a position as the head of a company in Grenoble, France, while possessing only rudimentary French language skills (within a year, he had mastered the language at an executive level and remained with the company for years).
Joe was a master conversationalist, able to intelligently, whole-heartedly, and charmingly converse with anyone about nearly anything. As his sister often said, “you know everything about everything!” but he would guffaw any suggestion that he was brilliant (usually with the retort that his father was brilliant), but Joe truly embodied the word. However, perhaps one of his best traits was his ability to laugh at himself, and if reluctantly persuaded to talk about himself, he would inevitably give a self-deprecating tale, upon which everyone would often have a gut-busting laugh.
Joe enjoyed and appreciated “the good life”; he travelled regularly on the Concorde, loved sailing his yacht throughout the pacific coast of North America, had a stable of horses, knew the wine regions of France intimately (Champagne was a favorite), and was an outstanding chef/gourmand (roast duck, lobster bisque with leeks, velvety squid ink black risotto, and yes, quesadillas, were specialties he enjoyed cooking with his family). He had exquisite taste in everything, and just such a natural flair, but that’s not to say he didn’t also enjoy getting his boots dirty, as he aptly demonstrated later in life when he could be more often found shoveling manure, mending pasture fences, or getting a dunking while forging rivers on horseback, than pursuing corporate mergers. However, even then he was just as handsome in jeans and boots as he was in a slim-cut tuxedo.
As full as his life was with these pursuits, he had an equal dedication to sports – golf, tennis, horseback riding and skiing were among his many loved adventures, despite the toll they sometimes took on his body (just one of many stories being that while skiing in the Alps with his daughter Nicole, he dislocated his knee at the top of the mountain, but insisted they continue because, “the snow was too good to waste,” and they both screamed with fun all the way to the bottom). He was the real deal, a total die hard, and his life’s mottos could easily be summarized as, “Always keep reaching for the goal,” and, “Never give up.”
For Joe, one of the core elements of his life was generosity. All of his friends and family have stories of being given luxury vacations and experiences, lavish dinners parties, financial assistance, priceless business advice, or stunning gifts. Perhaps the biggest of these, in the mind of his adored six-year-old nephew, was when on a surprise visit, he took him to the best toy store in town and told him he could pick out anything in the world he wanted - it was a Lego Galaxy Commander.
Joe’s greatest enjoyment (and what he would say was all too limited throughout his life), was spending time with family. He would travel literally half-way around the world to play tennis with his father, spent vacations with his sister’s family, he loved his time later in life with his second wife, Jacqui Hood, and their numerous animals, and most of all, he would so often comment heart-fully that his period in France was the highlight of his life because of the amount of time he was able to spend exploring Europe with his daughters, who spent several years living with him there.
Joe lived an extraordinary life and we are so deeply grateful for him and all he brought to our lives.
Joe is predeceased by his parents, Hilaire and Laura, sister, Annette MacDonald (Malcolm), and is survived by his four daughters, Heather Berge, Jennifer Buoncuore (Chris), Nicole Mangimelli, Krislyn Cornelius (Curt), nephew, Jeff MacDonald (Marcela), and grandchildren, Josh, Gabriel, Tahlia, Elijah, Ellia, Christian and Emily. No services are planned at this time due to COVID-19, however Joe’s family would be grateful for any donations made in his honor to the American Cancer Society or The Humane Society.
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