Remembering Paul Michael Brunelle FGDC

How many designers have discovered a whole new species of dragonfly and had it named after their son? Paul Michael Brunelle was that kind of designer.

Paul Michael Brunelle was born to Paul Joseph Brunelle and Gwendolyn Pearl Brunelle (Myers) on November 7, 1952 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He grew up the eldest of three children, and attended elementary school at Southdale in Dartmouth. He attended numerous other public schools in both Dartmouth and Ottawa and completed high school at Dartmouth High. He attended The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design from 1971-1976, graduating with a Bachelor of Design in Communication Design. 

In 1977 with partner Dereck Day he founded Graphic Design Associates (GDA) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Through GDA Paul developed a strong reputation, sited as being “A laconic man with the modulated voice of an experienced late night radio host.” He was National President of Graphic Designers of Canada from 1992-1994, as well as President and Treasurer of the GDC Atlantic. He championed a love for local business and strong communication between different professionals in the field, with much of his work still readily accessible today. Notable examples of this would be the Nova Scotian Health Card depicting Kejimkujik Park, or his Scotia Festival of Music Series throught the mid to late 1980s. 

In 1978, he met Meredith Bell at a gathering at his apartment on Victoria Road. Neither of them realized it, but this was only the beginning of their storied relationship. In the late 1980s, Paul subcontracted Meredith, then of Next Step Graphics, for projects in the field of design. After numerous successes, they decided to take on their most ambitious project to date, which culminated in the birth of their son Michael Erin Brunelle on March 14, 1991. 

Throughout Paul’s life he had a passion for natural history and the outdoors. This eventually led him to devote his life to the study of the dragonflies and damselflies of the northeast, at the time relatively poorly known. Throughout the late 1980’s and until his death Paul’s interest in damselflies and dragonflies never flagged and became his primary vocation. Funded by a number of agencies, his insect survey work took him to some of the most remote bogs, streams and marshes of the Maritimes and Maine, usually alone, and often at risk of sinking into a quagmire. 

An early highlight was his 1995 discovery of a new species of dragonfly, the Broad-tailed Shadowdragon (Neurocordulia michaeli), which he described in the scientific literature and named for his son in 2000. A dusk-flying species, Paul discovered larvae in the Canoose, a cool, clear, rocky stream in Charlotte County, New Brunswick. The find was significant (it had been nearly half a century since anyone had discovered a new shadowdragon in North America) and led to dragonfly specialists from across the continent making the trek to southeastern New Brunswick when the 1996 annual meeting of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas was held in St. Stephen, N.B. to mark the discovery. 

Paul had a deep understanding of the value and importance of natural history collections. His data collection was meticulous, with his specimens deposited in a number of museum collections. Most of his collections are now housed in the New Brunswick Museum, which holds one of the largest dragonfly and damselfly collections in Canada, largely due to Paul’s efforts. 

The scope of the NB Museum collection reflects not only Paul’s decades of field study, but just as important, his huge impact on other natural historians in the region. Paul was a teacher without peer who encouraged many others in the study of the flying dragons he found so marvellous. He particularly enjoyed working with young people, and a number of students he took under his wing are now pursuing graduate degrees in the study of insects at Canadian universities. In the months prior to his death Paul completed the draft of his magnum opus, Atlas of the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Acadia (Maine and the Maritimes). This 400 page manuscript, written, designed (reflecting his love of Helvetica!), and replete with illustrations he prepared himself, will hopefully eventually be published, a fitting tribute and legacy to both Paul and the insects he loved. 

Paul passed away at home on Saturday, January 18, 2020 at the age of 67. 

He is survived by his Son, Michael Erin Brunelle; and Sister, Therese Goodyer and her children, Andrea MacLeod and Peter Mortenson. 

The family is grateful for condolences and invites those that wish to pay respects to Paul’s life and legacy to make a donation to the NB Museum Christie Fund, established to support the study of natural history in the Maritimes and which supported some of Paul’s work. 

New Brunswick Museum Christie Fund 
New Brunswick Museum 
277 Douglas Avenue 
Saint John, NB E2K 1E5 
c/o Donald F. McAlpine, Ph.D. 
Research Curator (Zoology) & Head 
Department of Natural Science

Some memories from Paul’s GDC colleagues:

Mary Ann Maruska FGDC:
Sad news, indeed. I offer the following memories, the accuracy of which I won’t swear to: 

– as its President, he worked like a fiend to bring the Halifax Chapter into a state of vibrant health. 

– he streamlined policies and procedures for the National body, and made them accessible through a comprehensive binder provided to all GDC members. (I believe the part about the binder being provided to all members is true… :)

– he was the motivating force behind the GDC Journal. He saw the need for a document of more permanence than a newsletter, and helped garner a Federal government grant to support its launch. This came about as he was National President, I was Secretary of Communications, and Ulrich was recently retired. 

– It was the early 90s and while we were all still faxing he introduced email as a method of communication between National board members. 

– he left design to immerse himself in the swamps, home of the dragonfly. 

David Coates CGD, FGDC:
I remember Paul had one of the driest sense of humour of anyone I’ve met. He also had a deadpan delivery that unless you were on your toes, could easily be misconstrued and end up pissing you off — until you caught up to his joke. He minced no words and was always honest, direct and authentic to himself. The dragonfly man will be missed.

Albert Ng FGDC:
Paul was a huge credit to the graphic design profession. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered. I will treasure the four Scotia Festival of Music posters he autographed and gave to me when he visited Toronto.

Cyntia Hoffos FGDC:
I met him very early on during my life with the GDC and recall he was often the voice of reason and sound advice. There were many GDC members that were quite close to Paul and my condolences go out to them as I am sure they will miss him very much.

Robert L. Peters FGDC:
So sorry to hear of Paul’s passing. I have fine memories of the (sometimes laborious) spadework we did together re: GDC, his visit to my home in the woods, and also visiting him in his aquaria-filled studio in Halifax… where he discovered the dragonfly species he eventually named after his son.

Peggy Cady FGDC:
I met Paul at an AGM or two, many years ago. He was an impressive speaker; intelligent, measured, with a strong presence. I saw him as a pillar of the GDC community. His deep commitment to GDC was always evident. He’s someone I thought would always be around, and it is sad to know he is gone.

Steven Rosenberg FGDC:
I met Paul at an AGM and would eventually visit him at his interesting and odd home. Aside from all the other contributions he made, I was introduced to the concept of amateur expert and his profound interest in dragonflies. That alone made me realize that designers must always expand their horizons, and embrace other interests which enriches ourselves and our work.

And Paul struck me as awfully cranky, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Matt Warburton CGD, FGDC:
Paul Michael was one of those legendary GDC people who I first met at the 1996 AGM in Toronto.  He was this passionate voice of reason who I came to depend upon a number of years later when I was national president. He gave so much to the GDC over the years, at both the local and national level, yet he never tired or faltered in his dedication to the ideals of our organization and the power of design. I lost touch with him over the past decade and was shocked to hear of his passing. I will always picture him wearing his trademark biologists field shirt with pockets and magnifiers at the ready. I'm sure his spirit is out in his beloved marshes now, waiting for spring to arrive, and the countless insects to emerge from their dormancy and hibernation, so he can record their every movement in his perfectly gridded journals. Rest in peace my friend. 

And from Paul’s dear friend Bruce Kierstead‎ who posted this tribute on Facebook a few days after Paul’s passing:

Dear friends and fellow seniors,

Sorry to say this news is much like today's weather—awful.

Our good friend and colleague, Paul Brunelle, passed away yesterday (Sat.Jan.18) of causes TBD. I prefer to think of it as molting and believe Paul would approve of the term. An obituary from his beloved son, Michael, will follow soon.

I don't believe a service or interment is planned but something appropriately Brunelleian will happen post-winter when the bugs come out. Ick. I hate bugs. It's a wonder Paul and I ever got along—but we did—and I am grateful for that.

Paul was pre-deceased by his cat and faithful companion, Merry, shortly after his 67th birthday (Paul's, not Merry's) in November. He downplayed the effect but they'd been roommates for 16+ years and I know it saddened him deeply. PMB spent much of his time alone but claimed to never be lonely and I believed him because he never lied. Mind you, when visiting it was almost impossible to shut him up so he actually did appreciate human contact—occasionally.

Favourite Benito line, "As a courtesy to others, I work alone."

Pity because in my experience he was a great collaborator—as long as you followed his instructions. Just kidding.

There is some good news. Paul delivered the first draft of his monumental Dragonfly Atlas to the editors last summer—a 400+ page tome of maps, charts, tables, columns, tabs, indents, dots, squares, arrows, .25 line rules, meticulously detailed illustrations, footnotes, appendices, bullets, colour-coding, criss-cross-references and Helvetica light condensed the likes of which you've never seen—unless you know Paul's work. Standard stuff, really. And the database—well—what can I say?! Far beyond human (or other) comprehension—the stuff of science fiction. I think Paul's one (professional) wish would be for its completion and believe there are many odonata-ists and PMB-fans in that community who'll agree. He was well known and respected by the entomologists for whom he was a consistently reliable source of best dip net techniques; proper scientific nomenclature; irreverent humour; and tea bags. Really?—Paul?!

Paul's tireless efforts on behalf of the GDC (Atlantic and National) are well documented and, believe it or not, he was "...a man of passion, vision and devotion. An unshakable idealist with strongly held views, he is one of those rare individuals who can marry ideals with actions. Remarkably tenacious, he was instrumental in the consolidation of many of the standards and aspects the Society enjoys and often takes for granted today." (Robert Peters). Really?—Paul?!