Emily Rowden Fournier is as memorable a character as I ever met in my career.

She was colorful, smart, generous and had an imagination that was just out of this world.

Fournier, of Fairfield, died a week ago in a tragic whitewater rafting accident, at 32. But in her short time on this Earth, she lived life with more joy, passion and verve than many of us will ever achieve.

She loved theater, literature and history, and was environmentally conscious. She advocated for the underdog.

I met Fournier in 2014 when she told me about her plans to throw a 450th birthday bash for William Shakespeare, the English playwright, poet and actor. She was 26 at the time and I was amazed by her love of Shakespeare and knowledge of his works. She had read all his plays and poems dozens of times and memorized lines from many.

“My favorite sonnet is Sonnet 130, which starts, ‘My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun,’” she told me.

At the time, Fournier and her family were establishing the Recycled Shakespeare Company, a theater troupe that would perform Shakespeare’s plays, using mostly recycled materials for costumes, sets and props. She was about to launch auditions for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“We are going to try to cast everyone who auditions,” Fournier said. “If 150 people audition, then we’re going to have 140 fairies. We really just want everyone to be involved. Our whole concept is to create fun and enthusiastic productions utilizing recycled and re-purposed materials and the local talent that is here. That’s the important piece of local theater — the enthusiasm. We’re not asking people to be Broadway performers.”

That was the way Fournier was — warm, welcoming, and inclusive of everyone who wanted to learn about Shakespeare — and theater itself.

She just beamed when talking about it.  She had an almost jubilant outlook on theater and on life itself. I remember thinking while listening to her speak that here’s this grown woman who never lost the imagination she honed in childhood.

Lyn Rowden, center, with her son Aaron, left, and daughter Emily Rowden Fournier, right, stand on Main Street where they will be performing on April 23, 2019, and hosting a 450th birthday party for William Shakespeare at Selah Tea where they will read all Shakespeare’s sonnets. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

She recalled her mother, Lyn Rowden, taking her to see “Macbeth” at Colby College when she was a little girl.

“I think I was the youngest person in the audience by about 15 years,” she said. “I started reading Shakespeare when I was in kindergarten — I’m not joking. I saw the play ‘Hamlet’ when I was in kindergarten, and I went home and took out my Mom’s Shakespeare book and I read ‘Hamlet’ and memorized the ‘Goodnight, sweet prince’ monologue. I performed it to my mother with a teddy bear.”

She would later go on to teach adult classes out of her home about Shakespearean literature and Shakespeare, and she was only in her 20s. She had grown up in Fairfield and attended Lawrence High School briefly before enrolling in the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, from which she graduated in 2006.

While in high school, she wrote an in-depth piece on Shakespeare’s view of feminism, according to female roles in “Romeo and Juliet” — focusing on the characters of Juliet, the nurse and Juliet’s mother.

“I also focused on how that pertained to the Elizabethan times and the censorship of literature and productions,” she said.

She then attended St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, where she majored in English, specifically because of her love of Shakespeare. She received a bachelor’s degree in 2011.

The thing Fournier loved about Shakespeare, she said, is that his works are universal. Written in the late 1500s and early 1600s, they explore what it is to be human, and that is something all humans are trying to find answers to, she told me.

“His works are not just set in a time — they span all time. He can move anyone to tears. We can still feel the pain that is felt in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or understand why Titus Andronicus grieves so much over the rape of his daughter. We watch HBO for the same sensation.”

On Shakespeare’s 450th birthday in 2014 — he was allegedly born around April 23, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon — Fournier, her husband, Joshua, mother, and friends donned elaborate Elizabethan costumes and paraded through downtown Waterville, waving sticks with green and red ribbons and singing songs written by Shakespeare.

Her husband was dressed as the bard himself and her mother as Queen Elizabeth I. Because I planned to write a story about the event, I tagged along with them. It was one of the more fun assignments I’ve undertaken.

“Anon!” Fournier called to a woman who poked her head out of a storefront door. “Happy 450th birthday to the great William Shakespeare!”

Visitors walk through the Fairfield History House during a holiday tour as singers Emily Rowden Fournier and Joshua Fournier sing Christmas carols while Kay Gagnon plays the piano and Alexandrea Peterson sings along on Dec. 4, 2016. Morning Sentinel file

Fournier was wearing a pouffy, multi-colored dress with strings tightly tied at the waist and curtsied to those she met. She and the others read aloud sonnets as they poked their heads into businesses and sang “Happy Birthday” to the delight of spectators.

She led the troupe to Selah Tea Cafe downtown where she had organized a reading of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets and had talked many people, including  myself, into reading aloud a sonnet.

Two years later, our paths crossed again when Fournier’s friend, Valerie Tieman, was murdered in Fairfield.

Fournier had gotten Tieman involved in the theater troupe and they acted onstage together. Wrought with grief over her death, Fournier insisted on commenting for a story I was writing, as she wanted the world to know what a sweet and loving person Tieman was.

Also that year, I ran into Fournier and her husband at the Fairfield Historical Society’s Christmas open house where they were dressed in Civil War-era costumes and giving tours of the history house. I learned she had been a volunteer there since she was in junior high school, as she loved history.

She never ceased to amaze me with her zest for life, her love of family and of the activities in which she took part. When I learned that she also was a whitewater rafter, I was not surprised.

I imagine her now, minutes before her death, happy, joyful and reveling in the river ride, that lovely face of hers beaming in the sun. It was her final act before the curtain went down on an extraordinary life well lived.

We, your fans, shall miss you, dear Emily. Parting is such sweet sorrow. But methinks we shall meet again.



Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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