Dr. Rene Joyeuse was a remarkable man, but few people in his hometown of Saranac Lake remarked about him while he was alive. Few knew what great things he had accomplished in his life. They might have known him as a prison doctor or as a neighbor, but it wasn't until his obituary appeared in this paper in June that they realized he had also been a war hero and a medical pioneer.
And it wasn't until August, when we published village Mayor Clyde Rabideau's excellent feature story on Dr. Joyeuse's life, that they got the full and vivid story.
Dr. Joyeuse and his family lived here quietly for 25 years. He reportedly didn't like to talk about his exploits in World War II, like shooting his way out of a house surrounded by Nazis while spying for the U.S. before D-Day. He did critically important work to help the Allies win the war, earning France's highest military medal and the U.S.'s second-highest, draped around his neck by none other than Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.
Dr. Rene Joyeuse
(Photo courtesy of the Joyeuse family)
The war changed him greatly. He was a new man, and in recognition of that, he changed his surname, Veuve, to his U.S. code name, Joyeuse - the French word for "happy" and the name Charlemagne gave his sword.
He later fought for France in Indochina, where the horrors of wartime jungle surgery prompted him to enter medical school and become a doctor. Thus, he turned a bad experience into a way of helping make the world better for others.
He and his fiancee Suzanne, a nurse he met while in med school in Paris, moved to the U.S., got married and lived all over the country. He became a leader in developing the kind of trauma treatment that became standard with EMTs and emergency rooms all around the world; he was a co-founder of the American Trauma Society, fostering the creation of the trauma hospital concept.
He also helped develop the first biological heart valve replacement, one of which was, many years later, put into his wife.
We're sure many local people join us in wishing they could have known him while he was alive. What was he like, personally? What kind of a person can accomplish so much for society at large? Sadly, we didn't get the chance to find these things out for ourselves. His last 10 years were wracked by Alzheimer's disease. His wife cared for him devotedly.
There are many amazing people here - quite a few, even, who did amazing things in World War II - but the difference with Dr. Joyeuse is that he was not properly recognized for it locally during his life. Not once while he was living was he mentioned in the pages of the Enterprise; the Joyeuse name does not appear at all in the Enterprise online archives. Now, after his death, it's appropriate to make up for lost time, at least somewhat, in terms of public recognition.
So we raise a toast to Dr. Rene Joyeuse, a great man who chose, along with his wife, to make Saranac Lake their home. We're proud of that. He won't be buried here, though - rather, in a special place set aside for heroes like him.
(Editor's note: The sentence about the biological heart valve replacement has been corrected to reflect that it was put into Suzanne Joyeuse, Rene Joyeuse's wife, not into him.)