Victor Depaz was one of four brothers born to the Depaz family of St. Pierre, on the French island of Martinique. At age sixteen, in 1902, Victor was in Bordeaux, France, to complete his education. It had become a family tradition to send the children there to be educated before they returned to the island of Martinique to take their place in the growing family business, which was a blue sugarcane estate and rhum (French pronunciation of rum) distillery. It was Victor’s turn to be away in France. In late May, he heard the news of a series of devastating volcanic eruptions from Mount Pelee. He knew that the volcano was positioned above St. Pierre and his family’s home. Soon thereafter, he received a telegram from a family friend in Fort-de-France, that the first eruption on May 8, 1902, had claimed his entire family! The family home, the distillery, and the entire estate were gone as well. The words on that telegram stopped the course of his life. He was no longer a loved young man of promise and privilege. He had no purpose. Alone and destitute, Victor was an orphan at age sixteen.
A Life Altering Event
Human life is a gift that comes to us with no guarantee of happiness or success. In an instant, our fortunes can change without our fault or in spite of our finest effort. A child who has grown to expect the safety and love of his family is least prepared to have love and care to be lost in the blink of an eye. Most people who experience such a calamity feel powerless, and they see no choice other than to accept that happiness has been replaced by despair. People and animals throughout the world commonly capitulate, or accept fate’s cruelty. To not do that is an exception, a word that means rare. One is exceptional if one deviates from the norm. Victor loved his family and his life. He cried for them. He prayed for them. Then, he decided to be exceptional. Victor became a man on the day that he received a telegram. As a man, aged sixteen, Victor Depaz resolved to keep for himself the purpose that his family had intended for him.
The Path to a Purpose
Victor fought the overpowering urge to return home to St. Pierre. The human need for closure during death in the family is horrific, yet he could not succeed in his purpose if he gave in to that. He would honor his family by completing his education, which was now doubly hard for he had to find his own money to do it. His life became one day at a time, a week at a time. He turned to reading, becoming a voracious reader. He read about industrial techniques, and he bound what he learned about that with his memory of how agriculture and the rhum distilling process worked. Having suffered financially, Victor read about banking techniques. He used his story, which was compelling, to reach Frenchmen of influence and means. This was how he financed his quest to return to Martinique. A day at a time, a week at a time, and years passed before he amassed the means to go home. In 1917, at age thirty-one, Victor Depaz returned to Martininque. At St. Pierre, he wept again. He grieved at the cradle of his childhood, upon the land that entombed the unmarked graves of his family. Then, he resolved once more to be exceptional!
The Strength to Carry Others
St Pierre remained in ruins. The 1902 volcanic eruption was a killing horizontal protoclastic blast. His family was part of more than 29,000 who were killed! Mercilessly, Mount Pelee had sent a later, second blast to take two thousand responders! The volcano was quiet now, and so was St. Pierre. Very few people had come to clear out the ruins to make their lives there. But, Victor Depaz was home! He found a Catholic priest who struggled to put back the town’s cathedral, the moral symbol of hope. Victor dedicated himself to the priest’s purpose, pledging to share the bounty from his estate, which he said that he would restore. Envigorated by this man of hope, the priest dedicated himself to send helping hands to Victor. Remembering the importance of details, and how perseverance had led him home, Victor applied what he learned from what he had read. The blue sugarcane was the heart of the family business. From can to can’t, can see (dawn) to can’t see (sunset), Victor and those who helped him, returned the soil of the Depaz estate to cultivation. Then, he built a windmill to turn the rollers that would squeeze the juice from the cane. Applying the exact technique of his father, he distilled rhum from pure cane juice. But, he found out that other distillers now added sugar or molasses to boost production and cut costs. Depaz rhum would be limited in quantity and more costly unless he incorporated those changes too. Yet, if he did that, he would be at cross-purpose. Victor had plenty of justification to do anything necessary to survive. Yet, he had resolved to reclaim his family’s legacy. By recreating the exceptional product of his father, he had achieved his resolution. Now, he resolved to make France recognize and honor that product!
A Continuing Story
Through dogged determination, Victor succeeded in establishing the agricultural process of using only cane juice in the distilling of rhum as a distinct standard. The French Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) honors that standard to this day, and Depaz estate-grown blue sugarcane juice distilled rhum wins AOC approval year after year. Victor married. He rebuilt his family home precisely as he remembered it to be. He and his wife filled that home with eleven children, with love, and hope. Through his children, Victor set the course of the continuing saga of the Depaz family. They say that cream rises to the top, no matter how much it is stirred. An exceptional person is always a winner because he does not quit trying no matter how hard or how many times he is knocked down. The legacy of Victor Depaz is complete, and it endures in a growing and thriving family, estate, and superb rhum distillery, exactly where it was supposed to be in St. Pierre, Martinique. Victor Depaz was a world shaper.