Eulogy given at Christopher LaForce's graveside service

By Zack Carter, South Bay Communities Alliance. Remarks delivered on Tuesday, June 21st at commerical fisherman Christopher LaForce's funeral.  I am privileged that Christopher’s family asked me to speak today to help us honor the legacy he leaves for us. Indeed I am humbled to speak today because I know there are so many of you all that have known and loved Christopher La Force much longer than I.

But I wrote this short letter here -- to our fishers’ cooperative’s Steering Committee -- immediately after I learned about Christopher’s tragic death. I sent a copy to his wife Kelly. She and Christopher’s sister Tina said it was a good description of Christopher and his passions, and they want me to share it with you today.

I only knew Christopher La Force for one year and three months. But during that time I got to know him well as we went to many public meetings and rallies together up and down the Gulf Coast trying to make our government make BP do the right thing. We also went to many fishers and community activists' strategy meetings, followed by many, many one-on-one conversations about the struggle, and about our families.

I can also say, that even though I knew Christopher a short time, having been raised in Mobile, I went to the only Catholic high school in Mobile County where I met many people from Christopher’s home town Coden, and neighboring Bayou La Batre. And I got to work with many of you all during the ten years I worked as a machinist at Alabama Dry Dock shipyard, and at our Shipbuilders union, Local 18. All of the Bayou Folks I met had a tradition of speaking out, tenacity, and a fiery spirit that we all admired at the shipyard. Christopher La Force carried on your great tradition every time I heard him speak. He was also a loving husband and father who adored his children. And that is what I tried to express in this letter.

Letter to Alabama Fisheries Cooperative, Inc. June 18, 2011

Dear Steering Committee Members,
Pete Zirlott called me this morning to give me the terrible news that Christopher La Force died. Christopher left behind his loving wife Kelley, and three young children: Dominique, age 14; Christopher Junior “C. J.” Age 12; and Emma, age 10. He was so close to all of them.

I remember for example, last December at Baudeans's Restaurant -- where his wife Kelley worked and where we celebrated one of our two days of ribbon cutting ceremonies for our solar panel donation for the Coden Coastal Response Center -- I was walking down the side hallway and caught Christopher and Kelley kissing and hugging like honeymooners. I jokingly said "don't do that in public"; they laughed and of course kept on.

And Christopher was always talking about his 12 year-old son C. J.; helping to coach him at quarterback; and how he was so proud of how C.J. overcame the recent eye surgery stemming from an injury he received during a hunting accident.

We have also lost one of our most passionate, and committed fellow Steering Committee members for our democratic fishers' cooperative. Christopher was truly one of the most gifted speakers I have ever heard.

I first met Christopher a little over a year ago. He said someone for whom he had great respect told him to get in touch with me and our efforts to build a fishers' cooperative -- that person was Paul Nelson, a fourth generation commercial fisherman and President of South Bay Communities Alliance of Coden.

Although I only knew Christopher just a year and three months, he became a good friend. For example, he always asked about my 20 year old son Alex. Christopher took us out one day last summer from West Fowl River collecting samples of BP oil/dispersant. He was always trying to persuade my son to come back down here and earn some deckhand experience.

Christopher and I attended several meetings together last summer -- from Destin, Florida to Biloxi, Mississippi and Dulac, Louisiana trying to make our Government make BP do the right thing. I greatly admired his courage and readiness to speak out against injustice. And speak out he did, many times. By tomorrow, I hope to finish a collection of his newspaper and TV quotations, along with a narrative of some of his talks that were not recorded by the media -- including his commitment to build a real democratic fishers' cooperative. Until then, here are a few examples of vintage Christopher La Force:

In fact the last time I heard Christopher La Force it was one week ago today when he joined me and Pete Zirlott on a phone conference and gave a fiery talk to a group of mostly environmentalists -- they were deciding on who they would recommend for the recently established Citizens Advisory Group for the Environmental Protection Agency (each of the BP hit states get to have 5 citizen representatives). Christopher admonished them to commit to a strong commercial fisher contingent to become a part of the Citizens Advisory Group. (More on this later -- these folks did not really hear Christopher’s message, and it has become increasingly clear that commercial fishers will need to nominate their own set of candidates for the Citizens Advisory Group to the EPA.)

Strength in Unity,
Zack Carter, Organizer
South Bay Communities Alliance


Thank you Christopher for giving your fighting spirit and deep commitment to your community and to your fellow fishers. You will be greatly missed by all of us. Good-bye and farewell brother.

Zack Carter is an organizer with South Bay Communities Alliance, on the Alabama Gulf Coast.