MISSOULA — What do a backhoe operator, elementary school tutor, master gardener, executive director of two mental health centers, house builder, airplane pilot, restaurant owner, police officer, commercial real estate broker, cowboy, and delivery driver have in common? Answer: Rod LaRocque Newman, who once held all those titles, as well as several others.
During his nearly 90 years of life, Rod re-invented himself as necessary, or whenever he outgrew his circumstances. He quickly outgrew Hubbard, Oregon, the town where he was born on Sept. 17, 1929, which at the time, was home to about 325 people. Teenage adventures took him to Alaska, Texas, and a remote ranch in southeast Oregon. Eventually, however, he received his diploma from Molalla High School and a B.A. from NNC in Nampa, Idaho, where he met and married Jessie Rice. Together they lived in California, Oregon, Washington State, New Jersey, Georgia, North Dakota, and, finally, Montana.
Along the way Rod served in the U.S. Army (where he received a “sharp-shooter” award), earned master’s degrees from UW, Seattle, and UC, Berkeley, and fathered seven children. As a parent, he taught his children, and later his stepson, practical life skills and self-reliance.
From 1969 to 1975, he was the executive director of both the Southeastern (Miles City) and Southwestern (Butte) Montana Mental Health Centers. From the late-1970s until his death on June 30, 2019, Rod and his second wife, Joan Boyer Newman, lived in Missoula and in the Bitterroot Valley, where they bought 15 acres of land near the river. There, Rod returned to his rural roots by creating a large organic garden, a chicken coop, an enormous barn, and several acres of irrigated hay fields. He did all that in between solo trips to Central America, the Philippines, and Europe to explore other cultures and plant trees. Back home, he built three houses on the land, dug a pond, and helped neighbors with their projects. He did whatever needed doing: moving furniture, running trees through a sawmill to produce lumber, driving a truck across the country, riding a horse into the mountains to pack out an elk carcass, picking buckets of wild huckleberries. He also tutored children in Lolo’s elementary school. Helping others is what Rod did best. And he contributed compassion, a sharp intellect, and extraordinary physical vigor to each project. Even after a failed brain surgery forced him into a wheelchair for the last few years of his life, Rod continued to provide support for his household by using his exceptional intelligence and financial acumen to buy and sell stocks from his iPad.
Rod became a lifetime member of the Hemlock Society in 1995 and was a member of Compassion and Choices from its inception. For years, he and Joan promoted awareness of end-of-life issues in Montana and beyond.
The world needs more men like Rod Newman, who, later in life, chose to be fascinated (instead of frustrated) by people and things unlike himself.
Rod will be greatly missed by his wife, Joan; her son Brady Anderson-Wood and wife Elaine; family members in Oregon including two brothers, Kenneth Mishler and Craig Newman; and sister Nell Hughes; and by his children — Chérie Newman, Lori Newman, Gina Clugston, Salli Newman, Cathie Heier, Brian Newman, and Ted Newman — who are now in charge of passing Rod’s practical knowledge and skills to his 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Friends of Rod may honor his memory with donations to Missoula Aging Services, 337 Stephens Ave., Missoula, MT, 59801.