Note: Services for Sylvio Thibodeau are tentatively scheduled for Saturday, June 14, at Kingdom Hall of Jehova’s Witnesses, 100 Whiteview Parkway in Palm Coast. A time has not been set yet.
The pictures of Sylvio Thibodeau scattered on his daughter’s dining room table show him as he always was: a man who not only loved life but grabbed it by the horns, a bon vivant, as they would say in his native French back in Canada where he lived before moving to Palm Coast two decades ago. There he is at SeaWorld, there he is cascading down Splash Mountain’s final drop at the Magic Kingdom, and there he is, too, not long after World War II, marrying Lucienne, his bride of 63 years, who died four years ago. He was 22. She was 15 and a half. They’d have seven children together by the time she was 25.
Thibodeau, 88, died the way he lived.
He was swimming off Flagler Beach last Thursday, as he did virtually four times a week, his daughter, Doreen Vanadestine, who was with him that afternoon, said.
“He was too far, and the lifeguards blew the whistle for him to come back,” Vanadestine, 63, said. “My dad usually wears a haring aid but he always leaves it in the car because he figures if I’m going in the water I don’t want to lose it. I saw him coming back, then he disappeared. I think he got caught in a riptide.” He disappeared for a time. “Then I saw something square, I thought it was just a floater or something—it was dad. By the time the lifeguards got to him, it took too long, his lungs were full of water and salt.”
Lifeguards pulled him out and 911 was called, sending Flagler County and Flagler Beach units to the scene, just south of the pier (the 200 block of South Ocean Shore Boulevard). Lifeguards had already begun CPR by the time the rescue units arrived, according to a Flagler Beach police incident report.
When Thibodeau left the beach, he was alive, barely, as he was transported to Florida Hospital Flagler by ambulance. “Firefighters and the lifeguard did a fantastic job in performing CPR and life-saving measures,” Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney said Friday, “and they were able to get a pulse back and delivered him to FHF, where last night at 5:30 he was still fighting and in intensive care.”
But he didn’t make it. His heart stopped twice–once in the ambulance, and once in the emergency room, his daughter said, and he died later that night. “He never came to, there was massive brain damage,” Vanadestine said. “I heard three, four different stories from people at the hospital. Plus I was in shock. Some said he drowned, some said he had cardiac arrest, then they told me he had a stroke. It all sounds right, but what do I know, I’m not briefed in the medical field.”
Thibodeau’s is the first drowning off a Flagler Beach or a Flagler shore this year.
It was at Florida Hospital Flagler that his wife Lucienne died, too, four years ago. The family had to endure one more difficulty when his body was too hurriedly moved to the funeral home, when it had to be autopsied first. The body had to be brought back. The autopsy was conducted Tuesday, Vanadestine said (autopsies for Flagler County are usually conducted at the Medical Examiner’s facility in St. Augustine).
“He was my best friend,” Vanadestine said today. “He was great. He was a very happy person, always a smile on his face, he bike-rode two and a half miles every morning. I’ve only been here three years now, I’m from Connecticut, but when my mom passed we decided to let go of Connecticut and come be with him.” Vanadestine and her husband live just a quarter of a mile from her father’s place in the W Section. “So he’d come to my house, we’d watch videos together, he loved animals, he was warm, gentle. Him and I never had an argument.”
Thibodeau was also very religious, his son Richard, who moved in with his father in October, said. Thibodeau was a member of Palm Coast’s Kingdom Hall Of Jehovahs Witnesses on Whiteview Parkway, where he spent much of his time. He also went door to door to preach several times a week.
He was an avid hunter–of deer and, in Canada, caribou–(“I just got rid of his shotgun this morning,” his son said Wednesday), and he was independent: he kept his own house, as his wife had taught him before she died, and he maintained his daughter’s property in St. Augustine (as she serves out a five-year prison sentence for repeated DUI). He was about to drive up with his son to Canada for a wedding (with his son at the wheel) later this summer.
When he first moved to Palm Coast, Thibodeau lived on Bulldog Drive, near Flagler Palm Coast High School. But his was among the properties Palm Coast government acquired, back in 2007 and for $250,000, as the city prepared to widen the Bulldog Drive entrance, as it’s doing now. At the time, Thibodeau had a double-wide trailer on that parcel, which he turned into a “castle,” his daughter said. That was his trade: “He worked three jobs when we were growing up,” Vanadestine said. “He did ceilings, carpentry, construction, then he had side jobs, putting floors in, fixing plumbing. Mom didn’t have to work.”
Remembering his one-liners, his love of humor, his “cute little sayings,” his daughter said: “There’s nothing he didn’t do for us. He was an excellent man.”
Thibodeau was one of 13 children, and the last of those 13 to die. He was the youngest. Two years ago, his sister had died at age 92.