Visionary 'Trash King' Armand 'Buddy' Duseau remembered as paragon
NORTHAMPTON — Armand “Buddy” Duseau Jr. once described Northampton as “a microcosm of what’s best in the world.”
As news of his death traveled across the Valley this week, friends, family and associates described Duseau as a man who not only loved his native city, but someone who also exemplified what’s best in people.
Duseau, who was 77, died Wednesday surrounded by family at his Rockland Heights Road home after a five-year battle with cancer. He was known affectionately to some as “The Trash King of Hampshire County,” a pioneering and visionary waste-hauler who left a lasting imprint on the area’s solid waste industry.
But those whose lives he touched say it was Duseau’s far-reaching and behind-the-scenes generosity, from helping the down-and-out to countless civic and charitable contributions over decades, that left a greater mark.
“One of God’s great people,” said Rick Lee, executive director of the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter in Springfield, an organization Duseau and his wife of 55 years, Nancy, contributed to and served for decades.
“I can’t believe that he’s gone,” Lee said. “He’s been such a force for good in our communities.”
Born in 1935 in Northampton, Duseau was a second-generation owner of Duseau Trucking, a business his parents, Armand Sr. and Lillian Duseau, founded in the late 1930s and one that his two daughters, Beth and Pam, run today.
He spent his entire career in the trash collection and recycling business, and was a lifelong student of the industry, incessantly reading, learning and thinking about new ideas.
He built and opened what became the Glendale Road landfill in 1969, along with business partners Steve Cahillane and Bill Wood under the former Calduwood Enterprises Inc. The landfill was considered a first of its kind in New England, and a waste management model Duseau envisioned against the backdrop of trash incineration, which troubled him deeply.
“It served this community and Hampshire County very, very well over a long period of time,” said David Duseau, one of his four children. The couple also have a son Paul, who lives in Conway.
In addition to the landfill, which will close next year after a protracted political battle, Duseau helped build 17 transfer stations in the Pioneer Valley, including the Locust Street station in Northampton.
Around the time the landfill opened, Duseau had predicted that the future of solid waste management was in recycling, which would greatly extend a landfill’s lifespan, but he also cautioned that “whatever is unusable ultimately goes in a landfill, no matter how sophisticated the process becomes,” according to an interview Duseau gave to the Gazette in 1972 at age 37.
He was a believer in trash-to-energy, another concept that would one day play out at the Northampton landfill when the city began burning methane gas to generate electricity.
And in a statement 40 years ago that foreshadowed Northampton’s difficult talks on landfill closure in recent years, Duseau said of the business, “Most answers being advanced now are simplistic solutions to a complex problem and there just aren’t any simple solutions.”
“I think he was a real pioneer in that industry,” said W. Michael Ryan, a retired judge whose wife, Judith Ryan, is Duseau’s first cousin. “Trash is controversial, and there were a lot of people who seemed to want to fight with Buddy, but he had a wonderful attribute: that everybody is entitled to their opinion and let’s just get it out there.”
Duseau was in frequent contact with local government officials, voicing his opinions and providing advice on what the city should and shouldn’t be doing in the solid waste business. He faced a significant setback in the 1980s when Northampton took the landfill by eminent domain under former Mayor David Musante, though the city ultimately hired Calduwood to manage the facility.
One of Duseau’s closest friends, Dave Reed, co-owner of Amherst Trucking, remembers the day Duseau took him to the property that became the landfill and explained his vision. Reed said it was remarkable that Duseau continued to bring goodwill and a civil tone to the city throughout his life after losing the facility the way he did.
“He let it go. He never held a grudge about it,” said Reed, who described himself as a friendly competitor with Duseau Trucking, where he got his start. “That’s an example of how he operated, and it’s still unbelievable to me.”
Reed recalled how he and Duseau had served together as divers for the Northampton Police Department many years ago, recovering drowning victims and evidence used in crimes that had been hurled into city waters. Duseau once snagged a lug wrench used in a murder from the bottom of a pond in the Meadows so fast that Reed hadn’t even finished putting his diving gear on or adjusting his mask.
“He was just one hell of a guy; ahead of his times,” Reed said.
Former Mayor Clare Higgins recalled how Duseau invited her to breakfast at a local diner when she was campaigning for the city’s top post. Duseau loved diners.
“He proceeded to tell me the history of trash in Northampton going back many, many, many years,” Higgins said.
After she was elected mayor, Higgins said Duseau would occasionally call her to provide ideas or insights, but he never seemed to have any expectations. The city and Duseau would not always see eye to eye, but local officials say Duseau was always civil and wanted the city to be successful.
“He had a way of having a good dialogue, a hard discussion and no hard feelings,” Higgins said. “He didn’t engage in whispering campaigns. He’d come in and tell you what he thought.”
“He understood that the community was bigger than his single business,” she added. “That you need it all to make the community work. He got that.”
Outside the trash world, his closest friends and family members, as well as former city leaders, said Duseau’s contributions were considerable. He was a strong supporter of local schools, where he provided free trash hauling for years in Northampton, Easthampton and Hatfield and often loaned equipment and his services at no cost. He was a former president of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, served in the Army National Guard as well as on former Gov. Michael Dukakis’ solid waste management task force in the 1970s, the only trash hauler to do so.
Duseau was also a big booster of Northampton’s youth football program. He had starred on Northampton High School’s 1953 championship team under legendary coach Ed Buckley. Buckley, a hard-driving coach, became a mentor of Duseau’s whose strong work ethic and go-getter attitude rubbed off on his teammates. Friends said the impact Buckley had on Duseau could not be underestimated.
“He was a tough guy,” said Charlie Gleason, a lifelong friend who recalled watching Duseau play. “He threw trash barrels around all year long.”
Gleason said Duseau was one of the most positive people he had ever met.
“A lot of things he did in his life he made great because of the way he was,” Gleason said. “He did a lot that people don’t know about.”
Duseau’s son David said his father would often help those who were down on their luck because of personal misfortunes or mistakes they had made, but he never feared repercussions.
“He used to tell me, ‘When you pass the perfect test, call me,’ ” David Duseau recalled.
“There wasn’t an egotistical bone in his body, and he was never afraid to help anybody,” his son added. “He just did it because he wanted to and because it was the right thing to do.”
Calling hours for Armand “Buddy” Duseau Jr. are Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton. A funeral Mass is Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Grace Church in Hatfield followed by a burial with military honors in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Northampton.
Dan Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.