The man behind Haiti’s best-known export and most famous rum, Rhum Barbancourt, has died. He was 65.
Thierry Gardère died Wednesday in Port-au-Prince after complaining that he didn’t feel well and had trouble breathing, assistant William Eliacin confirmed to the Miami Herald. He said the cause of death was a pulmonary embolism.
“He had driven from Jacmel in his car and arrived home at 11 a.m.,” Eliacin said. “He died en route to the hospital.”
Gardère’s great-great uncle, Dupré Barbancourt, who moved to Haiti from France, founded the company in the same year — 1862 — that the United States finally recognized Haiti. The country had been shunned because of its successful slave revolt.
“They are now on the fourth generation,” Eliacin said. “It’s a big loss. Huge.”
The company’s general director, Gardère was in charge of Barbancourt’s day-to-day operation. Under his leadership, the company came back from a $4 million loss after 30 to 40 percent of its stock was lost in Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. Some of the white oak vats that had spilled onto the distillery’s floor contained rum as old as 15 years.
“I started to cry because of the alcohol vapours, well, and because of the tragedy,” Gardère told the Financial Times in a 2015 interview. “I was in shock, it was terrible.”
But even with a significant amount of the cognac-like stock lost, Gardère remained hopeful, telling the Herald three months after the quake: “We are ready to recover.”
And the company did. Once scarce, the suitcase-like boxes filled with rum bottles and stamped Haiti on the side were suddenly everywhere inside Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince.
“The satisfaction he had was that the company was back on its feet,” Eliacin said.
Still, Eliacin, who has been with the company 40 years, can’t help but wonder about its fate. Gardère’s only daughter, Delphine Nathalie Gardère, lives in France. So do his brother and sister, also shareholders in the family enterprise. In addition, he’s also survived by his wife, Muriel Lamour Gardère.
“Barbancourt is a national ambassador for Haitians, an honor, a prestige,” Eliacin said. “It was no longer just for Thierry Gardère. It is for all Haitians, a national patrimony.”