Where to start? Paul Vachon and I have been friends since 2001.

Should I start with the in-person dinners?

The laughs on the phone?

My weak attempts to speak French with him?

The fun chats with his wife, Dee, who he called “Sarge” for all her years in the US military.

The sad calls about the deaths of Luna and Mad Dog?

The whispered last conversation?

No, we’re starting with baseball.

There’s a moment in many friendships where someone just does something extra that cements things, that extra step that means so much to one party in the relationship.

I first met Butcher and his brother, Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, through John Dolin, who had done the amazing Wrestling with the Past series for The Comedy Network in Canada. While working on the second season, John invited me out for dinner with the Vachons, which I detailed here: My dinner with Mad Dog and Butcher. (I had met Mad Dog the year previous.)

Later that July, Butcher returned to Toronto and we reconnected. He mentioned that the Montreal Expos were in town to play the Blue Jays, and I went into action. At the time, I was working at the Canoe.ca website, affiliated with the Toronto Sun newspaper, and the Sun had the best sports section in town, so lots of connections to the Jays. I don’t remember exactly who pointed me to the right person at the Jays, but I got through, told them about this famous wrestler in town, and the deal was done. I called Butcher back and told him I’d scored him a pair of tickets for him.

But what he never stopped raving about was the fact that the Jays put him up on the SkyDome JumboTron, his huge bald, bearded head there for everyone to see as he waved hello.

From there, phew, where to go?

How about Memramcook, New Brunswick!

Definitely off the beaten path, in 2006, I had mentioned to Butcher and Dee that I had been invited by the famed Cormier family — Leo Burke, The Beast, Rudy and Bobby Kay — out to a big family reunion, the entire town celebrating their accomplishments. While I flew out from Toronto, they decided to drive up from Vermont for the event. It wasn’t that Butcher was particularly chummy with any of the Cormiers — they knew each other and had worked together a little, but not a lot by any means — but that he and Dee craved road trips. It was nothing for them to drive for days to go to events to try to sell therapeutic magnets, Butcher’s hand-carved canes or other nick-nacks.

With few others staying at the quaint hotel, Dee, Butcher and I had plenty of time just to hang.

The last visual memory though was about butter. Butcher had had throat cancer and been treated. To make his meal go down easier, Paul would take a piece of butter, let it soften in his mouth, swallow, and then have a bite of something else.

The Cormier celebration was a grand old time, but not a particular success for Paul and Dee, as it was filled with townsfolk not wrestling fans, so they didn’t exactly sell out. That didn’t matter though, it always seemed to about the journey and not the success. In fact, that sums up Butcher’s career too; he journeyed and then journeyed some more.

Butcher Vachon, Greg Oliver, and Mad Dog Vachon at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in 2009 in Las Vegas. Photo by Greg Oliver

Butcher Vachon, Greg Oliver, and Mad Dog Vachon at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in 2009 in Las Vegas. Photo by Greg Oliver

We had a few breakfasts out in Las Vegas too, where Dee and Paul would drive from Vermont to attend the annual Cauliflower Alley Club banquets. A little closer to home, they’d throw the unforgettable couple of Lisa “The Adjuster” Haynes and “The Cheapest Man in America” Roy Haynes into their van, usually with a massive dog (or two) and meet us all in Amsterdam, New York, for the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame inductions.

I even journeyed out to Montreal for a dinner in November 2009, organized by Pat Laprade, bringing together the extended Vachon family and others, for a mini-banquet celebrating Mad Dog’s induction into the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame. It was wild to meet so many of the Vachon clan all in one spot. Paul was the last to go. (In retrospect, I realize I was a lot like Butcher and Dee in that I drove there, attended the event, and drove back, making for a long day.)

A needed aside about Dee though. She was his drill sergeant, yes, but their love was so evident, a comfort and appreciation for each other. A 2009 email from Dee sums it up pretty well, referencing Karl Lauer, who ran the Cauliflower Alley Club:

Hello Greg, the boss wanted me to let you know that he is now out of the hospital and doing better than ever. He went thru a spell where he didn’t look all that pretty but looks aren’t everything. We are writing a letter to Karl for the CAC about his ordeal and he wants to use it for the start of the fourth book. NEVER ENDS. lol. Peace out. D

In the short time between the news circulating of Paul’s death on February 29, 2024, and me writing this, I am realizing I am not the only one with these experiences. Paul was, at his core, a people person, a storyteller.

My Word doc on Butcher is 23 pages long, filled with story after story. He wrote his memoir himself, but I did help edit and source photos for him, and I went easy on the edit, knowing fans still wanted it to be in his unmistakable voice.

And that voice needs mentioning. Through the in-ring violence, the throat cancer and treatment, and, well, old age, it became a gravel pit of Frenglish, his mind thinking in French but the words coming out scratchy but delightfully droll in English. That it transformed, becoming twisted and difficult to understand is a real punishment (but maybe to Dee a break?), was a kind of irony.

The last few years, I have been part of a wonderful documentary, Lunatic: The Luna Vachon Story, on the life and times of his stepdaughter, Gertrude Vachon, better known as Luna, which will be much more complete and all-encompassing than the Dark Side of the Ring episode on her. Early on, when the director, Kate Kroll, and I discussed who to approach, we both knew that Butcher had to be on the list … and soon. Kate was able to document Butcher’s 84th birthday party, and, even if we need subtitles for his gnarled voice, he is in the movie. 

But I had heard that soft whispery voice before, when Paul called me in 2010 to tell me that Luna had died. No father wants to outlive their daughter. It was heartbreaking and, having met Luna a few times myself, including at the previous year’s CAC reunion when she was manic and over-the-top excited about her award, it hurt my heart too. The call about Mad Dog’s death in 2013 was similar, but not as shocking.

Then on Friday when Pat Laprade called to tell me about Butcher’s death, there were a few thoughts that ran through my mind.

Paul Vachon with his daughter Paulette at the 2013 Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas. Photo by Greg Oliver

Paul Vachon with his daughter Paulette at the 2013 Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas. Photo by Greg Oliver

I thought of Dee. I thought of all Paul’s seven children — some of whom he had very little to do with, other than siring them. I thought of his family reunion coming in Heaven.

I thought of baseball, and shared my Butcher at the Jays game story with Pat, who also was a huge Expos fan.

Later, the obituary and photo gallery done, what I didn’t do was have a drink to celebrate the life and times of Paul. He’d been sober for decades, and wasn’t shy of mentioning it.

Au revoir, Paul. Merci pour tous.

TOP PHOTO: Butcher Vachon, Greg Oliver, and Mad Dog Vachon in November 2009. Photo by Greg Oliver