LEWISTON — In 2008, the family of Cecile J. Coulombe donated $1.3 million in her name to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center for a new emergency room.

Cecile described it as a happy surprise at the time, but nobody who knew her well was surprised at all. For most of her life, she had maintained a deep relationship with St. Mary’s, which later named its emergency department in her honor.

“She’s really committed her life to the hospital,” Cecile’s son, Paul, said at the time, “and so we were really taken by the opportunity to do something for her in her name for an institution that’s so close to her heart.”

Cecile, who launched Lewiston’s White Rock Distilleries in 1970, died at her home earlier this week at the age of 89.

Those who knew her said the kind of love and dedication Cecile had for St. Mary’s was the rule, not the exception. Whenever she set out to do something, they said, she was all in.

“Whatever she became involved in, she really committed herself to it,” said Janet Bishop, Cecile’s daughter. “She was just a wonderful, caring, kind person.”

Cecile was born in Lewiston and spent the bulk of her life here. In the late 1960s, the family moved to Venezuela, but by 1970, they were back and the impact on her hometown city would be significant: The Coulombes launched White Rock Distilleries, beginning with three employees but growing that number to more than 200 over ensuing years.

Cecile would serve as president and treasurer for 20 years, but even as the business grew, her family said, Cecile remained humble and kind, occasionally giving a worker a ride home or making sure he or she got something to eat.

“People in general just loved her,” Bishop said. “The employees were absolutely crazy about her.”

In 1990, Cecile retired and left control of White Rock in the hands of her children. She moved on from White Rock, but she didn’t stop working. In a variety of ways, the beneficiary of her ongoing ambitions was St. Mary’s, where Cecile co-chaired capital campaigns for the Women’s Pavilion and later, for the Intensive Critical Care Unit. She sat on the boards of St. Mary’s and d’Youville Pavilion.

Even when those duties were over, she remained active with the organization and received the St. Marguerite d’Youville Community Award for Stewardship in 2005.

“We are deeply saddened about the passing of Cecile Coulombe,” said Craig Gunderson, board chairman at St. Mary’s Health System, “a gracious, devoted and very generous supporter who volunteered tirelessly for the hospital for over 35 years.”

According to Gunderson, Cecile had named the hospital’s Family Birthing Unit in memory of her husband, Raymond. When it came time for the emergency center to bear her name in 2010, it seemed perfectly fitting. The hospital was, Cecile said back when it happened, the place where her four children were born. It was the staff of St. Mary’s who tended to her husband, Raymond, when he fell ill in the 1990s and who treated Cecile when she suffered a brain aneurysm.

Cecile was active outside the hospital, as well, according to her family. This was a woman with 17 grandchildren she adored. But even apart from the hospital, the passions of her life always seemed to include helping others.

“She was also very involved with her church, Holy Family, where she was a Eucharistic minister, both in church and going to shut-ins,” according to her obituary, “and a very active member of the Ladies of St. Anne, where she held several offices and got many awards, including Mother of the Year.”

Back at St. Mary’s, the 2008 donation was the largest of its kind in the hospital’s history. While it wowed the community and helped St. Mary’s to build its Emergency Department, it was right in line with the way Cecile had conducted herself to that point.

“It just made a lot of sense,” her son, Paul Coulombe, said of the donation, “because it meant so much to her, and Lewiston is where the business is located and where she is located and where we come from.”

On Wednesday, as news spread of Cecile’s passing, hospital officials said their loss was more about human kindness and Cecile’s tireless spirit than about dollars and cents.

“St. Mary’s will always be grateful for Cecile Coulombe’s commitment to the hospital,” Gunderson wrote, “and her memory will live forever through her good works and philanthropy.”


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