Jacques Montouroy, Humanitarian and Coach, Remembered

By Lane Hartill

In Port au Prince, a few weeks after the earthquake, on a side street next to the collapsed presidential palace, a squat man wearing a fishing vest, a floppy hat, and a scowl, patrolled the crowd. He looked like a grandfatherly trout fisherman, who hadn’t caught anything in a while.

Jacques Montouroy

CRS’ Jacques Montouroy demonstrates to Haitians in the Champs de Mars neighborhood how rubber tubing is to be cut up and used as washers on shelters. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

This was the Champ de Mars neighborhood where Haitians were known to rush humanitarian workers and throw rocks at police. But this man wasn’t afraid of going into the belly of the beast, this 60-something Frenchman with a curious British accent and a slight hitch in his walk.

But if you knew Jacques Montouroy, you’d know this was par for the course.

Jacques had cast-iron nerves. And in 41 years with CRS, he’d seen things that most humanitarian workers who sit in offices will never know.

With the help of the US military in Haiti, he blocked off the side streets; nobody got in if they didn’t have a CRS ticket. He told trucks precisely where to deposit the aid kits. He showed people how to file in and out. In this explosive neighborhood where no humanitarian group wanted to work, Jacques had Haitians lined up, like kids ready for recess, as calm as lambs.

Jacques Montouroy

Jacques Montouroy coaches youth soccer in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

You could learn a lot by watching Jacques. And I did..

I was, to be honest with you, kind of in awe of the man.

This guy, whose life I hold up as the gold standard of humanitarianism, died yesterday.

And those who knew him, which was most people in Sierra Leone, are mourning.

* * *

“Jacques wasn’t the dying kind,” a friend of his told me. “He was,” he said, “Ram Tough.”

I liked Jacques. I liked how he lived his life, the old-school approach, the take-no-guff attitude. I loved the fact he was a little raw, a little rough around the edges.

Jacques kept his cards close to his chest. But he’d occasionally lower them and let people see into his life. He told me that, in his salad days, he could run the 100 meter dash in 11 seconds flat. And during those savage days in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s, he’d pass many of the country’s worst rebel commanders in the street. He’d coached them and their sons years before. “Jacques,” they’d say when they passed him, “How da bodi?” and Jacques would smile and wave and wonder how many bad deeds they’d done that day.

Jacques’s life was a best seller waiting to happen. But he would hear nothing of it.

He hated publicity, but he probably deserved more than anyone I’ve ever met. He didn’t like having his picture taken. And if he sensed even a sliver of limelight, he shuffled to the corner, hoping that it found someone else. Jacques also had no patience for bureaucracy. And when it gummed up his work, out came that sneer.

“There are thinkers and then there are doers,” he told me once. “The thinkers get in the way of the doers.”

Doers are the people who sit on stools with villagers and eat local rice and ask how the kids are doing in school. They can tell you about the place where, during the war, 7,000 people who hadn’t eaten in days poured out of the forest, ravished with hunger. They’ll explain how they sat them down in rows and handed each one a poker chip which they redeemed for food.
Jacques, it was safe to say, was a doer.

Over the course of four decades working with CRS, Jacques helped hundreds of thousands of people. The people he influenced most were young men.

Jacques was never married, but he had several hundred boys. They were soccer players. From Angola to Mauritania, he coached hundreds of them. They were the boys most other coaches ignored until they were old enough to show talent and make money.
He called them “his boys” and they called him “Papa Jacques”. In the slums of Freetown, where many parents are barely-there, Papa Jacques was a constant, someone who cared about them.

“He encourages us,” one boy on his under-12 team told me. “He helps us.” And that help extended beyond the field. He told the boys to stay away from drugs and sex, the two things that could ruin the career of any young man.

Some of these boys sold bread and fish to help their parents. None of them had running water, a shower or a toilet. Jacques would make trips to Murray Town, a neighborhood of Freetown, and he’d sit in humid shacks and tell fathers and mothers to be careful about the agents coming from Europe who were trying to sign their sons to contracts. They trusted Jacques, because they knew him; he’d been living in Sierra Leone for more than 12 years. Stop any taxi driver in Freetown and ask them if they know Papa Jacques.

I guarantee you they will.

Jacques was such a good soccer coach, there were whispers that he should coach the Leone Stars, the national soccer team. But he was committed to his boys.

Jacques bought them shoes and flew them to tournaments and taught them how to move the ball up the side of the field. His teams routinely beat teams of older and more experienced boys. Unlike most people, he devoted himself to his boys.

* * *

If you were lucky, Jacques would scatter the gold coins of his life throughout conversations. He told me why Angola’s UNITA rebels never attacked his trucks; or the time the French President Francois Mitterand sent someone looking for him in Liberia; then there was the bald-faced lie he told soldiers in Haiti so they wouldn’t execute Haitians; or the time he defended the CRS warehouse in Port au Prince from an angry mob.

Maybe that’s why I liked Jacques so much. He spoke his mind. He didn’t care who you were. He was also a private man, who wasn’t interested in plumping about his life or Facebooking his adventures. He had his heart in the right place. He knew sports could help people just as much as any humanitarian project.

But above all, he loved CRS.

In the months before his death, he was contemplating retirement or moving to another agency. He wanted to stay in Sierra Leone and continue to coach. But, he said, he wanted to go out, “without much fanfare”. But leaving he said, would “break my heart.”

“He was a truly selfless humanitarian,” said a friend who knew him well. “He not only was giving his life for others in conflict situations, but he never spent anything on himself.” Following his death, when CRS staff went to his house, it was almost empty. Just his beloved cats and turtles.

You weren’t supposed to go yet, Jacques. I was going to come back to Sierra Leone. I was going to write stories and you were going to drop by my desk and we’d eat Skittles together, like last time. We were going to leave work early and go to soccer practice together. You promised me you were going to show me the 10 year-old phenom you’d discovered. I was going to tell you about the wheelchair basketball team I help coach. I was going to tell you how you’d inspired me.

Wherever you are, Jacques, I hope there’s some cassava leaf stew nearby.

And a football pitch with plenty of boys to coach.

I have no doubt that those boys, like everyone else, will come to love Papa Jacques.

Read a tribute to Jacques in The Washington Post.

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23 Responses to “Jacques Montouroy, Humanitarian and Coach, Remembered”

  1. geraldine brodt Says:

    Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful tribute to my brother Jacques.

  2. David Montouroy Says:

    Thank you for that nice article on my brother. His life was a great secret to us (his family) but now we know a little more about his life in Africa.

  3. Lindsay Says:

    A truly incredible person. Papa Jacques, thank you for inspiring us all.

  4. Don Says:

    Papa Jacques will continue to be an inspiration to those whose lives he has touched. May he rest in peace.

  5. Michael Wiest Says:

    It was the summer of 1976 when I was in Ouagadougou (Haute Volta, now Burkina Faso)that Jacques was transferred to Dakar from his post in Bobo Dioulasso (Haute Volta). As the new Country Representative I was surprised to receive a phone call from President Sangoule Lamizana expressing his regret that Jacques was being transferred out of the country. What a nice tribute, I thought, from the President de la Republique about Jacques’ work with CRS. But no, President Lamizana, while acknowledging Jacques CRS contribution, was more concerned about the impact on the national football team. “He was the best coach we have ever had,” he told me! Jacques…what memories you have left us. Michael

  6. Bonnie Says:

    If we would only venerate a life thus lived rather than glorify actors and athletes. Perhaps, though, if we did, it would ruin the work and selflessness that is so inspiring. A special soul has passed.

  7. arlene Says:

    A beautiful tribute- I did not know him but your words makes me regret I did not.

    I pray Jacques bold spirit continues to inspire us all.

  8. Tom Says:

    Serving those most in need and a love of football, Jacques truly had the right priorities in life.

  9. Jason Sullivan Says:

    I had the pleasure and the privilege of working with Jacques when he came to Zimbabwe in 2002 on a 2 month TDY. He assisted me with the start up of the emergency program C-SAFE and I worked very closely with him, traveling to the field, assisting with setting up our logistics. At one point on a trip to Mutare, he told me “HQ asked me to move here to work on this project, but I didn’t want to. It’s too boring here”. I found Zimbabwe nothing but boring during the 2 1/2 years I worked there, but I knew what he meant. I was in awe of his stories and how he always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (Forrest Gump in reverse?) yet he always came through.

    I never forgot the story of how a photo of him standing handcuffed next to a man who had just been executed ended up on the front page of the newspaper back home, with his mother thinking that he too had been executed. Looking at the posts above from his family, maybe that’s why he kept his life so secret.

    He seemed so comfortable living out of the hotel- as if he really was a citizen of the world and all he needed was a bag and a change of clothes. I swear I remember him traveling with an old typewriter as well, ready to type up a report or account of his life.

    Jason Sullivan
    Public Donor Liaison
    Catholic Relief Services, Baltimore

  10. Salome Sullivan Says:

    He was funny and a kind soul, he bought a dozen soccer balls and outfits in Zim, he told us how many times his soccer children now military or guerilla saved him during public unrest. I loved hearing his stories, he was a great story teller but the most wonderful part it is all the amazing things really happened! His passion for his work surpassed the frontiers making everyone part of the Montouroy family.

    He will be remembered with love and he will be remembered as a legend!

  11. CRS Angola Says:

    CRS Angola employees, particularly those who knew and worked with Jacques, were taken by surprise the morning of August 2, upon hearing the news of his death. Jacques worked in Angola from 1993-1998, the hottest years of our civil war, and each one of us feels deeply about his death.

    We recognize that Jacques Montouroy was a man who was different: a simple man who did not want to live in the “chic” neighborhood in Lobito (Restinga) where CRS rents houses for its international staff; a man who took care of himself. He was a tireless and humble worker who was honest and ‘got things done.”

    At CRS, Jacques organized our logistics and warehouse systems, managing various teams of 30 people each. He encouraged the teams to be dynamic, loyal and honest and established awards for the best teams. Those who worked with him in logistics admired his pragmatic approach to problems.

    His work in Angola wasn’t limited to CRS; Jacques knew how to interpret the importance of sports, particularly for youth. Outside of work, Jacque was, like in every country where he lived, a promoter of soccer and formed several children’s or “caçulinhas”, and juniors’ teams, who were always feared by other teams. As elsewhere, in Angola he financed the teams, including uniforms, balls, and travel, out of his own pocket. One of ‘his boys’ is the current CRS Operations Manager/IT official. At least four national teams that play in Angola today have players trained by Jacques– Académica, 1º de Maio, 1º de Agosto, 17 de Setembro.

    Jacques Montouroy will be remembered by many Angolans for many years. May his soul rest in peace.

  12. Kossi Kpogo Says:

    Jacques knew when to “break the rules” to insure that the affected populations are timely served. It was in Balombo/Angola in 1997. I called Jacques on HF radio to inform him that the bags of corn for distribution that he sent to me from Lobito were infected with flies… that I was going to return them. He asked me if I was an African. I responded yes. He asked me what an African would do when his bags of corn was infected? I responded that he would open the bags, lay the grains under the sun for the insects to get out, and then he would recondition the bags. Then he asked me « pourquoi tu ne fais pas la même chose? en tous cas, ne me retourne pas les sacs à Lobito, parce tu n’auras pas d’autres sacs en remplacement; c’est ton problème » After the radio communication, we followed his instructions, we hired a few women in the community; they were surprisingly used to this kind of exercise. They helped us recondition the bags of corn that were distributed to the targeted program participants, as scheduled. Jacques, I will miss you.

  13. Matthew Breman Says:

    Jacques was a great humanitarian, in the true sense of the word, who used “le foot” as his vehicle. I first met him in Sierra Leone in 1998, while doing an audit there. We had a common language (French speakers in English-speaking West Africa) and a passion for soccer; I spent several days helping coach his teams after work. He did everything for those boys – coached, fed, clothed, disciplined… in sum, he was their surrogate father. Several of the boys he coached ended up signing professional contracts in Europe, no doubt a direct result of what they learned from Jacques. And this was all on top of his daily work – a logistician who knew how to get things done! I’ll never forget the “official” papers he used to carry with him to help clear customs – covered with stamps in all shapes/colors with the requisite official looking signatures. An auditor’s dream :-)!

    During my time with CRS in Angola (1999-2001) I also coached soccer, partly to do my part to support some of the players that I knew Jacques had coached during his time there a few years earlier… Jacques will be missed by all whose lives he touched, especially those young African soccer players whose dreams he kindled.

  14. Dane Fredenburg Says:

    Friends, fitting for a man of his accomplishments, here is Jacques’ obituary in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/04/AR2010080406809.html

  15. Hugh Aprile Says:

    Here is a note I wrote to the staff in CRS Nicaragua that never had the opportunity to work with Jacques. Thanks to Lane Hartill for this moving article.

    Dear Colleagues-

    I am sharing with you the sad news of the death of Jacques Montouroy, a Frenchman who worked for CRS for almost 40 years. Ever since I joined CRS I’ve heard about him. When I had to help organize a food distribution for refugees in the Congo I used a manual that Jacques had written. It wasn’t a pretty document that was formatted using Word, it was a document written by hand with his scribbled notes in the margins. He helped me that time in an incredible way, and I didn’t even know him. Earlier this year, in Haiti, I finally had the honor of meeting this giant of CRS who worked in 11 countries during his long career. Jacques would wake at 4.00 a.m. in order to start preparing for the day’s food distributions in Port-au-Prince, in some of the most complicated and dangerous urban environments possible. He impressed me with his self-confidence, and even more with his sense of humor that remained intact despite the tragedy surrounding him. I also remember his great enthusiasm for soccer and his desire to help young Africans through the coaching of this sport.

    I know that you did not have the opportunity to meet Jacques, but I wanted to share this sad news with you nonetheless given that Jacques was an important figure for our organization at the global level.

    I hope that Jacques is resting in peace.


  16. Washington Post on Jacques Montouroy | CRS Voices Says:

    […] Read a tribute to Jacques written by CRS’ Lane Hartill. […]

  17. Carolyn Mutamba Says:

    During the 1986-1992 period when I too was a CRS employee in Africa, I often heard about the legendary “Mr. Logistics”, Jacques Montouroy. It wasn’t, however, until I was in Angola monitoring food aid programs for USAID that I finally had the opportunity to see him in action. I probably spent no more than a total of 2 days interacting with Jacques over the course of my visit but it’s one of my treasured memories of Angola.

    Moving around the port and the city of Luanda with Jacques was wonderful, as everywhere we went boys and men were calling out to him or coming over to greet him. More than any of the other expats – even those who’d been there for years – or the angolans I had access to, Jacques provided me the insights into the dynamics of the lives and challenges of the ordinary Angolans we were trying to assist. He was also one of the gentlest, most charming men I’ve met – in spite of that gruff exterior.

    His departure is too soon for his family and all who knew him, but I rejoice in the knowledge that he was able to live his life to the end in the place and the way he preferred. He truly emboddied the theme of that Sinatra song by living life “his way” and what a wonderful way it was.

  18. Anne Bousquet Says:

    I had the pleasure to work with Jacques for 2 years in Angola (’96-’98). He was a great friend and colleague not just to me but to my son who he had out on the futbol pitch at 7 playing with the big boys. I have so many memories….I can remember one day Jacques went out to visit one of the warehouses and came back late in the day all grumpy because the workers had locked him in the warehouse demanding more pay. What upset him more was that we were all so busy we didn’t even notice that he missing all day. The thought of workers locking Jacques up made us all laugh and as grumpy as Jacques was that day there was a smile under it all. I can also remember Amy Hilleboe and I dragging Jacques out, with a lot of resistence, for his 50th Birthday….the wine helped and he did have fun. In my 17 years with CRS I have never met anyone who could orchestrate a distribution like Jacques could. Three of us flew to Chongoroi and we had just 3 days to distribute food to over 3,000 people. Jacques made it happen despite shots being fired, people fleeing and then coming back. He was an expert in his field and I feel priveldged to have known and worked with him. I will miss hearing those flip flops coming across the floor. Rest in Peace Jacques.

  19. Annemarie Reilly Says:

    I first met Jacques in Huambo, Angola in 1994. I was there on my first emergency TDY – first time in Africa, first time doing an emergency food distribution – to help manage CRS’ first food distributions in a city that had been under siege for a year. We – me, Peter Rothrock and Jacques – had to register and feed about 90,000 people in an urban and peri-urban environment. Thank God for Jacques and his “food distribution in a footlocker kit” that he brought out from Lobito. He trained us up, hired 40 people in the community and the registrations began. While I learned a tremendous amount from Jacques on how to do food distributions, my fonder memories are of Jacques making fun of me the first day on the job when I couldn’t get a charcoal stove going in order to cook dinner. After letting me suffer for a while, he finally told me that the trick to getting it started was to go next door and get a lit coal…I like to think that after he enjoyed laughing at my expense I eventually won a bit of respect by working hard and learning from him although I think what really did it was that I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty in the warehouse and offloaded grains from the trucks with him before we got the stevedores hired. Jacques was a “doer” and his dedication to helping those in need in some of the most difficult environments was truly inspirational. May you rest in peace, Jacques.

  20. Marc DSilva Says:

    I worked with Jacques in Sierra Leone for a year and a half in 1998-99. I was actually telling one of my Jacques stories to CRS colleagues over dinner in Addis Ababa a mere 2 hours before Sean’s email announcement arrived. There are too many memories, but 3 stand out:

    CRS was the first agency to distribute relief supplies behind rebel lines in 1999 following the cease-fire – it was in the town of Lunsar, during the heavy rains of August. We managed to rebuild a bridge, transport food, and distribute food to 25,000 civilians who had been trapped for 9 months. All in 2 days. It wouldn’t have been possible without Jacques, with his ever-present pen around the neck. His confidence and ease of interaction helped give me the confidence to get through those days.

    In those days, CRS/Sierra Leone had a staff football team that played in an NGO league. One rainy day, our team challenged one of Jacques’ youth teams to a match. Even though our 40-something paunches were getting outrun by teenaged whiz kids, we actually took a 1-0 lead into the last minute, thanks to the fact that the ball would often hit deep puddles of water and come to a sudden halt allowing our panting staff to make up lost time. Even though we wound up with a 1-1 draw, Jacques had a big smile on his face after the game. It was a rare occasion where his two worlds met. He might have even been impressed with some of the play of our staff!

    Finally, I had the good fortune to be able to watch the World Cup with Jacques in 1998. I had been talking trash beforehand about how well the US was going to do, but not France. Of course, the US went 0-3, and Les Bleus won it all with a thumping of Brazil in the final. Jacques was classy throughout it all. It wasn’t just that France won; it was that they played beautiful passing football.

    Enjoy your Star beer at that little Mammy Iyo’s in the sky, Jacques. We go si bak.

  21. David Snyder Says:

    As a former staff member of CRS I traveled with Jacques in Sierra Leone in 2000, and have crossed paths with him many times since – most recently in Haiti just a few months ago. Many of the quotes that appeared in the recent Washington Post article on Jacque’s life were taken from a piece I wrote about him for the Washington Times after that Sierra Leone trip. It was an article I wrote after seeing how he operated in a place many, including myself, found foreign and often scary. But fear was something Jacques seemed immune to. One of my favorite stories of him took place just after he arrived in Angola. As I recall it, someone broke into his apartment the very night he arrived in the country. Jacques responded by breaking a phone over the intruder’s head – then telling the police to search the hospitals for a man with a piece of the receiver still stuck in his head.

    But Jacque’s life, about which he was intensely private, was much more about kindness. Many don’t know just how much support he gave to the kids he coached, from money and food to school fees and, perhaps most importantly, a male figure of compassion and support in their lives. Because of him, many of Africa’s poorest youth were able to rise above themselves and make their own mark in the world. In an age of greed and cynicism that is perhaps Jacque’s greatest legacy. He will be missed.

  22. David Palasits Says:

    Jacques was the CRS expert in distribution in emergency situations. He shared his knowledge with his colleagues. To me, he exemplified what it means to serve: selfless, humble, helpful. He was one of the giants of CRS.

  23. Ryan Enage Says:

    I gained a role model when he died on my birthday. Rest in peace, Mr. Montouroy.

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