TEWKSBURY- The grandfather handed the freshman football player an old but refurbished 1976 Tewksbury Memorial High School varsity football letterman jacket. The scrapbook was next. It was a passing of the “Tewksbury Tough” torch. The older man knew at that moment that he didn’t have much time left. Lung cancer was winning this battle, but Tewksbury’s Eugene “Mousey” Roux wasn’t going down without a fight. That fight ended March 17 with Roux dying at home surrounded by his family. Roux wanted to make sure that his cancer treatments at Massachusetts General Hospital never interfered with his ability to say his final goodbyes. But this hail and farewell to grandson James was special. James was the oldest, so Mousey knew in his heart that eventually the young man would lead the way for his family and his Tewksbury teammates.

Now grandkids James, Sophia, Julianna, Thomas and Calvin will carry on. They will live their lives as a reflection of a man who valued hard work, team work, respect for authority and patriotism. Roux would want these youngsters to be good people and solid teammates in whatever sport they chose in Tewksbury. Remember these names Tewksbury. You will be reading about them often whenever the respective seasons change. Whether it’s football, softball, swimming or gymnastics, these young people are both versatile and talented. They made their grandfather very proud and helped him face down the challenge of Stage-4 lung cancer. If adversity really builds character, this brood raised in the shadow of Mousey’s beloved “Goat Bar” will have a leg up when times get tough.

Their grandfather was the guy who did the “dirty work” long before there was a cable TV reality show based on the host diving into the muck and mire that is often the mark of a working class family. The Mouse helped run Tewksbury Sewer Service for many years. His parents Eugene and Dorothy valued their son as a big part of the operation. He went on to run his own business, helping people cope with problems that they naturally don’t want to either see or deal with. The Mouse was always willing to work hard and get his hands dirty. In fact, it took Stage-4 lung cancer to slow him down even a little bit.

Roux’ varsity football coach Bob Aylward got an up-close look at this young man’s work ethic early in the 1976 season. Aylward had rebuilt the Redmen into a potential football juggernaut after only two seasons at the helm and decided to challenge the team with a tough first scrimmage against Lynn Classical at what was then the Center School Field. Fred Akers, a future star at UCLA, got off the Lynn Classical bus. Mousey Roux was trying to tackle and block the much bigger Akers with something else on his mind. He knew he had to get to work. There was a sewer business to attend to.

“It was getting dark and we were late in the scrimmage,” remembers Aylward. “Then Mousey comes up to me and says that he has to leave for work. He left and we kept playing. I remember that he would give you this carefree attitude, but down deep he was tough. He gave you everything that he had.”

The Roux family legacy is built

Roux had two daughters with his high school sweetheart Diane, who also died from lung cancer four years ago. Daughters Danielle and Rene were born when their parents were very young. The marriage ended, but Mousey and Diane would remain great friends until the day that she died. Danielle married Anthony and their family started with the birth of James, who at an early age displayed the athletic ability of granddad Roux.

“James is a 15-year-old playing on the freshman football team in Tewksbury,” says mom Danielle with great pride. “He is a lineman (guard) and has the number 44, which is one of dad’s old numbers. He is also on the wrestling team. James has dad’s toughness and grit on the football field. He is also a leader and is well respected by his coaches. He is the first grandchild, so he and my dad were very close. James enjoyed going out on jobs with my dad.

“Sophia and Julianna are 13-year-old twins. They are in the seventh grade and both play travel softball for the Lady Spinners. They have been involved with Tewksbury softball since the first grade and they hope to play in high school together.”

“Dad was beyond proud of his grandchildren, their honor roll grades and their participation in sports. He bragged to many people, always saying ‘they’re athletes’. He was able to watch a lot of Julianna’s meets and Sophia’s basketball games live online when he was no longer able to leave the house. He wasn’t well enough to see James play football at the high school, but passed on his letterman jacket and scrapbook to James on Thanksgiving after the last game ever played at Doucette Field. One of the last things that he said to James was ‘hit them hard, the bigger they are the harder they fall.”

“My sister Rene recently moved back to Tewksbury,” says Danielle. “My dad was especially proud of her military career. She is currently a Major in the Army. After a tour on active duty she remained a member of the National Guard and Reserves for nearly twenty years. She has been mobilized twice to serve overseas and stateside during the COVID pandemic.

“She has two boys Thomas (7 years old) and Calvin (4). My dad just loved their energy, and he really got a kick out of their boyish antics. They are super smart. They moved next door to me last Spring, so dad could stop by and play with them. He would literally crack them up. He would say, ‘imagine my mother with boys like them?’ Both boys play baseball. Thomas does jujitsu, and dad always said that Calvin will definitely be a football player.”

“My father was diagnosed with Stage-4 lung cancer in October 2019.  He hadn’t been feeling well for quite some time and tried to push through it.  When he finally went to get checked he saw my sister, who is a nurse practitioner, in urgent care.  She had the daunting task of discovering the tumor and had to call an ambulance.  He was hospitalized immediately and we had him transferred to Boston the next day.  He spent almost a month at MGH, enduring multiple procedures, and returned home just days before the final game was played Thanksgiving morning at Doucette Field.

“My sister and I took him to every single appointment in Boston after that for over a year. He completed radiation and did well initially on the chemotherapy.  My sister’s knowledge and my experience as a medical social worker helped him navigate through the health care system.  We were honored to be by his side, and spent countless hours in the car and at appointments. The three of us looked at this experience as making up for lost time, as dad was always a hard worker, working two jobs his entire life. He never passed on an opportunity to brag about us, his son in laws or grandchildren to everyone at the hospital.

“My dad owned and operated Draingo since the 1990’s and thoroughly enjoyed this.  He did not have many hobbies. I would say work was his life. He continued to work through his treatment for as long as he could. That was his goal.  To feel well enough to work.  He wanted to help people and missed the customers most when he could no longer go out on calls.  He would still walk them through things and spend the time needed on the phone. Dad retired from the Tewksbury State Hospital after over forty years there as a Third Class steam engineer even after his cancer diagnosis. He was a smart guy with a ton of knowledge. My dad was not a sit down and visit type of guy.  He was more of a drop in and visit person. All of us living close by allowed that to happen frequently. The situation forced us to have quality time where he shared stories and his vast knowledge.  We all learned more about him in a year and a half than we would have otherwise in a lifetime. 

“He never complained at all.  Even when we tried to assess his pain or discomfort.  He did not want us to worry and would make a joke of it.  ‘Maybe it would hurt a regular guy’ or ‘I’m not dead yet’.  He spent countless hours watching old movies with his grandchildren.  Cool Hand Luke, Man of La Mancha, anything Humphrey Bogart.  I walked in one day to see him trying to explain a Groucho Marx comedy to them.  They knew he wasn’t well, and they wanted to be with him as much as they could, even if it meant stopping by with ice cream after practice at night.  He enjoyed every minute of this.  He called them ‘the brats’ and lit up whenever they were there.  Our dad had a tough exterior, but he melted around his grandchildren.  He made them laugh right up until the end. When he was well he enjoyed cooking out for us at his home. He loved the wild life on Round Pond. He used to send us videos of the baby geese and deer passing through his yard.  My father liked to fish too.  But most of the kids’ memories are of them visiting and my dad making them laugh.”

“The freshman football team showed up at dad’s wake. Coach Brian Aylward, the Spinners’ softball coach and countless friends all came.  We even had a gentleman come to pay his respects because my dad stood up for him when he was bullied many years ago.  More than fifty years later this man felt compelled to come pay his respects for that reason.  This is why dad loved his glory days and what it means to be ‘Tewksbury Tough’.

Tough from day one

Charlie Roux’ kid brother made his mark early in his Tewksbury High School varsity football career with determination and toughness that was off-the-charts. It was during a scrimmage in 1977 that Roux — running almost ankle deep in the mud of Doucette Field — was gashed almost to the bone by a metal can protruding out of the muck and mire. His coach Bob Aylward remembers the day and still shakes his head in amazement all these years later.

“We were scrimmaging and he comes up from a play cut and bleeding badly. An old open can had come up from beneath the field. It was like a quagmire. He lost a lot of games his senior year because of it. The muscle was involved at the tibia. Every time he put pressure on it the stitches would split.”

Roux would eventually recover and play a big part in Tewksbury High School’s football reboot. The players had bought into Aylward’s unbridled enthusiasm for playing the game. “I loved playing in this mud,” Roux would always say. “We never lost in the mud. We were Aylward’s first champions.”

Roux’ mom Dorothy helped run the family business for six decades, but she always found time to be an enthusiastic supporter of Tewksbury sports programs because her sons were involved and she loved watching them compete. She always seemed to be sitting right at the 50-yard-line no matter what the field was named. Charlie played at the Center School Field. His brother played at Doucette. Same field. Different name. Same competitive Roux family. After the games the Roux house was a destination spot to celebrate victory. ‘Mousey’ loved every minute he was on the field for the Redmen.

The Mouse was born in Lowell on January 13, 1959 and was raised and lived in Tewksbury his entire life. He worked and played in Tewksbury and never left. Roux loved to work hard and hang with his many friends. His gatherings at the “Goat Bar” were legendary for their duration and storytelling. In fact, no one ever left without a story to tell. Fun was always on the agenda, and The Mouse was there to show everyone a good time.

Many of Mousey’s friends and teammates helped his daughters plan a “drive by” birthday parade that has become routine during the age of COVID-19. But like every Roux celebration, this was hardly routine. Over one hundred cars and motorcycles made the trek up Helvetia Street and past the Roux’ home on January 13. They remembered the roar of Mousey’s beloved Harley Davidson. The blare of country music and the long trips with friends.

“Mousey was as tough as they come,” remembers TMHS football teammate Jim Panzino. “His brother Charlie was a football legend at Tewksbury High School. Mousey never complained about being hurt, he just toughed it out. His family knew no other way. Mousey had a quick wit about him. I was walking past the film room after a game and Mousey yells out in front of about ten people — ‘hey Panz, do you like running out-of-bounds?’ He was watching film of our game with Lawrence. I had two interceptions in that game and tried to run to the sideline both times. I fired back at Mouse — ‘if you had any speed you would get to the sideline too.’

“He was larger than life and he loved football,” says Panzino. “He was a loyal friend. We sometimes practiced together after the season, getting him ready for his junior year. I will miss that guy.”

His brothers Charlie, Joe and Eric will also miss The Mouse chirping in their ears. Here’s betting that they will never forget his official farewell. Instead of the routine goodbye, The Mouse would wave and simply say, “smell ya”. That was his way of saying that you had made the grade and entered his circle of trust. Once you heard it you never forgot it. Over the years people knew that it was coming. And they inevitably doubled over laughing.

Cousin Mark Stephens was also a teammate as part of Coach Aylward’s 1974-76 TMHS football rejuvenation project. Stephens knew right away that The Mouse was going to be a handful for those “rich kids from Andover and Chelmsford.” If someone was bigger than Roux he didn’t care. He would just knock you to the ground and then dare you to get back up. The Mouse mastered the fine art of taunting before anyone even knew what taunting was. If he needed to be sometimes reigned in, Roux’s coaches knew that in those very different times it was the price they sometimes had to pay for gaining a competitive edge. Tewksbury was building a reputation as being smallish but tough. Stephens was a big guy that admired his much smaller teammate.

“Mousey was tough and pretty fearless,” says Stephens. “I remember him being tough when he was eight or nine years old.”

Stephens then goes on to describe a street fight between the cousins that was quickly forgotten over a few cold beers. Just another story to tell. Get up, dust yourself off and live to battle and work through another day. That was The Mouse.

The 1976 Hall of Fame season

Many people remember the 1976 TMHS football season as the moment that established the high school football championship tradition in Tewksbury. The Redmen were rolling at 9-0 with five shutouts heading to their traditional Thanksgiving morning showdown in Wilmington. The Wildcats were 8-1 and filled with speed to burn and enough size to give Tewksbury some real problems. The winner of this game would go to the Schoolboy Super Bowl to play Lynn Classical. Ultimately, the Wildcats were too much for Tewksbury, rolling to 32-0 victory. It was one of the most disappointing defeats in Coach Bob Aylward’s long storied career. When he talks about that game today you can still see and feel the disappointment. Minutes later the conversation turns to The Mouse and the veteran coach’s face lights up. Aylward knew that despite the setback that Roux had “spilled his guts”.

And his teammates felt the same way. These teammates were entered the TMHS Athletic Hall of Fame 2002. The names are familiar to the Tewksbury football faithful. Rick Billings, Mark Brown, Neil Fraser, Joe Gorfinkle, Rick McGillick, Tim Brothers, Brian Wolfe, Billy Ashe, Tim Weisensee, Jay and Mark Petros, Ron and Bob Lambert, Bart and Larry Weitz. Some are gone. All of them will be remembered forever.

Some of the players made it back to that final Thanksgiving Game played at Doucette Field. They found The Mouse and walked in the wet mud for one last glorious time. An opponent even made it back to Tewksbury and found his friend. Wilmington’s Gordie Fitch, a big part of the team that handed the Redmen that disastrous defeat, found The Mouse at the halftime ceremony. As a drone flew over the muddy field to capture the moment, Fitch and his Wilmington teammates embraced an opponent they loved and respected. Roux was still smiling through the pain.

“Gene and I had been friends since back in high school when we met on the football field,” says Fitch. “Then in 1977 we played together in the Lowell Sun All-Star Game. Gene was an amazing athlete and friend.”

A friend, a father…a grandfather. A son, a brother and a worker. A fun loving character leaving this life with a wink and a smile. Riding his Harley on another journey. A Tewksbury lifer. This Mouse that roared left no doubt that he enjoyed life. See you on the other side Mouse. Thanks for the ride.

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