The life of Harrison Westhaver Gauld, originally from the Bath area, was the epitome of connection. In his short 28 years on Earth, his presence was felt, and lessons will live on. He was authentic and navigated the world with the love of his community, giving and taking in just the right proportions.

In the acrimony of these times, my column writing became political and mundane, an exercise of preaching to the choir, rather than its original purpose — to connect community and engage in conversations to create empathy through exchange of viewpoints. Creating conversation is the best way to connect — to make an enemy your friend — it is harder to “hate” when we share stories and intertwine our lives. Harrison has inspired me to write again and to change the column from Common Sense to Common Ground with stories and events that connect us.

Harrison’s life was well-lived. What we do matters, but what we leave behind matters more. The group gathered to honor Harrison were moved by the impact he had on every single person who knew him. The tears shared came from the connections he created between himself and his community.

Harrison, affectionately known as “H-Bomb” by family and friends, was brought into this world by loving parents, Malcolm and Laura Gauld. They believed in him and were not disappointed as he continued to achieve things the professionals told them were beyond his reach.

He was the younger brother of two sisters, Mahalia and Scout, and showered with unconditional love; they adored him. His cousins showed up in force at his celebration of life at the Hyde School, where “Harry,” his sisters and many of those cousins grew up together, under the watchful eyes of their parents, their aunts and uncles, and other faculty and staff at the Bath school.

Harrison was born with autism and life was not easy — but it was full because he engaged everyone around him. The stories of mischief, acts of kindness, and love were aplenty. Rituals ruled him; many of those rituals centered around love for others. Making people laugh was a joy and he had an abundance of silly jokes in his extensive repertoire

His obituary begins: “Coolest dude on the planet. None cooler. That’s how Harrison and his father liked to greet each other, straight-faced and without nuance. Like many people with autism, Harrison was void of pretense or sarcasm. Among his many rituals, the ‘coolest dude’ one was exclusive between father and son. When he said it, he meant it. So did his dad.”

What makes someone the “coolest dude on the planet” — that question was answered at his celebration of life. Story after story, anecdote after anecdote, all focused on what it is to share love. I believe the love that went into Harrison was mirrored back to the people in his life up to the day it ended when he had a seizure, drowning doing something he loved.

What lives on is Harrison’s bond with anyone in his path, something most people with autism don’t accomplish. Whether he saw you daily or met you once, he remembered.

His rituals were steeped in his autism, but that just made him more endearing. Going to Disney World in Florida, excited to get on a roller coaster ride for the sixth time, he rushed by an unsuspecting Hyde staffer, shouting his usual “Hi, Krista!” as he passed her. But this encounter was anything but usual — they were 1,500 miles from the Hyde campus, and this was a random coincidence. While the rest of the family stopped to marvel at this chance meet-up, Harrison was off, focused on routine and the singular drive to go on the ride again.

Harrison had a passion for swimming and was adept at it. He went to Reed State Park or Popham Beach and swam out regularly. One day, as a young lad, he didn’t turn around at the buoys — he kept going, ending with a Coast Guard helicopter sent to retrieve him and bring him to shore.

He could pass only through “aisle 9 at the local Shaw’s” — if it was closed, they would quickly open it up if they saw him enter with his parents. You could order him only medium vanilla cones from Dairy Queen. Anything outside routine could result in a meltdown.

Harrison showed his unique potential was to bring people together — his inborn quirkiness was his superpower.

A video montage of slides and videos ended the celebration of life with Harrison on video singing his favorite Phil Collins song, “You’ll Be in My Heart.”

As we ponder what next, consider Harrison’s five-part mission statement. He was happy and a giver. He was loved unconditionally, and he gave that back. He made the world better, every single day.

That is the legacy left to us by the “coolest dude on the planet.”

RIP, Harrison, Harry, “H-Bomb.”

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“You better live every day like your last, because one day you’re going to be right.” — Ray Charles

Harrison Gauld

One of my sons showed me a video of Harrison that he filmed called the “Harrison Gauld Pledge.” Each day began with Harrison reciting his five-part personal mission statement:

1: Learn something each day.

2: Say “Hi” to people and get to know them.

3: Have safe hands and voices.

4: Work hard.

5: Have fun.

 

 

Reade Brower is the owner of these newspapers.