A Fond and Sad Farewell to Bernard Pharisien, Beloved Son of Essoyes

November 23, 2018 at 10:45 am 5 comments


I had difficulty suppressing the irrational thought, as I made my way to the cemetery in Essoyes yesterday, for the burial ceremony of M. Bernard Pharisien–Essoyes’s beloved historian, raconteur, researcher, teacher, generous sharer of all he learned–that surely he would be there.

But of course, in a way he was.

Some people, when they leave this world, leave not so much a void as a palpable and enduring presence. So it is with M. Pharisien, I believe.

He gave so much to this little village, the village of his birth and childhood, the village to which he remained devoted all his life.  And through his indefatigable, constant, and continuing research into the history of Essoyes and some of its famous sons (and daughters!) he gave much to the existing knowledge of the Renoir and Heriot families as well.

That his work, and his generosity, were deeply appreciated was clear yesterday: many, many cars lined the streets of the village near the cemetery, and there was a large crowd there to pay him their respects: people from all walks of life, and apparently from both near and far.

Everything he learned in his research–which was basically a second career for him, a passionate pursuit that he began after his retirement as a teacher–he shared so generously with the public. Until last summer he gave his matinale walking tours through the village, four days a week, all summer long, each tour typically lasting at least three hours. In these walking tours he enthusiastically shared the stories he had collected, and the knowledge he had gained, with anyone who wanted to listen. He did not charge anything for these talks: he hoped that people would buy his books, but they were not obliged to, and he never pressured anyone to do so. I went on a few of these walks and every time I did I learned a lot, because every time I did he had learned a lot since the last one I had attended.

He knew a lot of interesting facts, but it was his ability as a storyteller that was so engaging. There was never anything dry or boring about the history of Essoyes as related by M. Pharisien. His sense of humor and irony, though tending to be understated, enlivened his presentations. As I stood in the cemetery yesterday listening to the eulogies presented by the mayor, M. Pharisien’s former colleagues, and members of his family, my eyes fell on the very unusual (and beautiful) statute of the nude woman, a work of local artist Louis Morel, and on the grand monument to the Heriot family. Each of these monuments to the dead had been stops on M. Pharisien’s tours and the bits of history and local lore that he recounted there have made them forever more meaningful to me.

He is now buried right next to the towering monument to the Heriot family where he shared his knowledge so often, so freely, and so well. (I say this so that those who find their way back to Essoyes and want to pay tribute to M. Pharisien when they are here will know where to look.)


Mr. Pharisien left this world suddenly, unexpectedly, and in my mind way too soon. At 80 years of age, he seemed to be still in the prime of his life. I saw him leaning in for a conversation with someone idling a car on one of the village streets not long ago.

He will be missed so much. It is really too bad he is gone. But oh, what a wealth of valuable work he has left behind! Thank you, thank you so much, M. Pharisien, for all you have done to honor, record, and share the history of this village with us, and with the world.


Merci, M. Pharisien. Vous nous manquerez beaucoup. Mais on essaierai de continuer d’apprendre, de respecter, de garder, et d’apprécier l’histoire de ce petit village que vous avez tant aimé. 

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. You can read her interview with M. Pharisien, in English and in French, here


Entry filed under: About Essoyes. Tags: , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kevin sisson  |  November 23, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    A beautiful tribute, Janet. X

  • 3. Ginnie Cooper  |  November 24, 2018 at 5:21 am

    What a lovely rememberance to a village treasure! Thank you, Janet.

  • 4. Jacques FOURNIER  |  November 30, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Merci à vous Janet d’avoir écrit sur notre ami Bernard.
    J’ai repris en vous citant sur le blogs d’amis de l’Ource.

    Pseudo internet FOUINOS
    plusieurs blogs en ligne

    Jacques Roland FOURNIER, TROYES Aube France

    • 5. Janet Hulstrand  |  December 1, 2018 at 7:51 am

      C’est moi qui vous remercie, M. Fournier. Je suis reconnaissante que j’ai eu la bonne fortune de connaître Monsieur Pharisien, et d’apprendre beaucoup sur l’histoire de ce petit village grâce a lui. Il est parti trop tôt, et il nous manquera beaucoup. Merci de votre gentillesse en m’écrivant.


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