MANCHESTER — Lu French had a saying: “If you want something done right, ask the busiest person you know.”
For so many people that person was French, who died Monday at the age of 59 after a long battle with cancer.
The French family is hosting a public memorial service at Southern Vermont Arts Center — a place near and dear to her — at 2 p.m. Sunday. A reception will be held afterwards at the Silver Fork, located in the former Mark Skinner Library — the building whose restoration she designed when the couple bought it at auction in 2019.
Described by many as an energetic and generous Renaissance woman, French was a spouse to Clark French for 30 years, a mother of three children, a successful businesswoman, a yoga teacher, and a generous philanthropist in two communities — Manchester and greater Vero Beach, Florida. The couple purchased the Northshire Bookstore from the Morrow family last year.
On Tuesday afternoon, Clark French was full of stories about his wife, and gratitude for the community’s outpouring of support as she spent her final days at home in hospice care. The family received literally hundreds of cards, and Lu was able to read them and visit with friends and loved ones before she passed, he said.
“She made me a better person every day,” he said. “She instilled strength and empathy and kindness in our kids that allows us to move forward without her with confidence and grace.”
A Miami native born to Cuban immigrants, Lu French was an author, a self-taught designer, a gardener, a clinical pharmacist with a doctorate from the University of Florida, and a composer. An art book she composed and published last year, based on an art exhibit celebrating women of all walks of life from the Vero Beach area, has raised money for a community center in Gifford, Florida.
Then there were the businesses Lu and Clark French owned or invested in throughout their time here: Breathing Room Yoga Studio, Village Picture Shows, the Kimpton Taconic Hotel, the Reluctant Panther Inn, the Silver Fork, and most recently, the Northshire Bookstore. And that doesn’t include their successful real estate business in Florida, in which Lu French was the designer and visionary for beachfront homes the couple built and sold in Vero Beach and Palm Beach, Florida, as well as Mexico and Jamaica.
“She was one of those people involved in lots of types of endeavors,” Clark French said. “Someone might know her from yoga but didn’t know she was in business. Certain folks might have seen her at the bookstore and not known she was in the Manchester Garden Club.”
Despite the health fight she was facing, the last two years of Lu French’s life were a whirlwind.
“Literally, during the pandemic and while she was battling cancer, she started, wrote and published a book,” Clark French said. “She took over and restored and renovated Mark Skinner Library in Manchester Village and helped the Silver Fork open. We purchased and took over the Northshore Bookstore. All in 18 months.
“Any one of those things would have been a lot for most people,” he said. “Yet she was able to successfully juggle all those things. That’s the type of person she was — always gracious, always kind, incredibly patient.”
Clark French said he met Carmen Lourdes Torres — “Lu” is a Cuban nickname for Lourdes — in Baltimore 33 years ago. “She was running a clinical pharmacy program at Maryland General Hospital. I was running a jazz bar,” he recalled. “We immediately felt connected.”
The couple were married for 30 years — they spent their 30th anniversary together in a hospital as she underwent treatment — and had three children: Chloe, 36, Christian, 29, and Ian, 25.
Born March 20, 1963 in Miami, to Joaquin and Margarita (Muro) Torres, French earned a doctorate in clinical pharmacy from the University of Florida. She was also an experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) and Continuing Education Provider, with certifications including Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass.
She is survived by her mother “Cuqui,” sister Mayra Rodriguez, brothers Joaquin Torres and Jose Torres and many other family members.
Her community impact was just as significant, friends said Tuesday.
Leslie Keefe, a close friend, got to know French when their children became friends at Manchester Elementary Middle School. She said she and her husband Brian Keefe, along with Joe and Christine Miles, formed a close bond with the French family.
“She had such a passion for life but also was so generous with her time and with her treasure, whether volunteering or helping with a cause,” Leslie Keefe said. French was among volunteers who helped create the music and Spanish programs at MEMS, and helped raise money when Act 60 threatened steep budget cuts at the school.
“She was always so accepting and so loving to all. She was just an exceptional person,” Keefe said. “It’s a huge loss. It’s such a void.”
“As a longtime vital member of the Manchester community, she contributed her time and energy to many local not-for-profits and was responsible for some of our town’s most iconic projects, businesses and organizations,” said John Burnham, executive director of the Manchester Business Association. “With her passion and dedication to our community, she has touched so many lives. … She will be missed greatly but will always be in our hearts, minds and happiest of memories.”
Taconic Music founders Ariel Rudiakov and Joana Genova met Lu French when she took piano lessons from Rudiakov’s mother. She was the president of Taconic Music’s board of directors at the time of her death, and Rudiakov said the upcoming season will be dedicated to her memory.
“This was an unparalleled creative spirit,” Rudiakov said. “Somebody who channeled spirituality, not in an organized religious sense — just someone who found beauty in so many things and expressed that right back out.
“There was always an elegance — a high standard for how things were presented, and tremendous attention to detail on both their parts,” he added.
At Burr and Burton Academy, French served as the substitute Spanish teacher and served on the board of trustees.
Lu French was small, but mighty,” Burr and Burton Academy Headmaster Mark Tashjian said. She touched so many lives in so many ways. Pharmacist, designer, decorator, entrepreneur, visionary, yoga instructor, mother, spouse … it’s hard to fathom anyone with such wide-ranging talents. And, most important of all, she was filled with love. The world lost a really, really good one [Monday] night.”