The Friends of Tommy Comeaux group erects a memorial dedicated to the physician-musician’s other love: cycling. By Walter Pierce
[Clarification: The funds to build the memorial bike stop for Tommy Comeaux were donated specifically for that purpose by “Friends of Tommy,” a private group comprising Robbie and Julie Bush, Alan and Shelley Breaud, Cajun Cyclists, Bob and Sandy Giles, Lenny and Christine Lemoine, John and Mary Schutte, and Frank and Peggy Camalo. No funds generated for the traditional music program at UL Lafayette were used.]
It’s been 15 years since Dr. Tommy Comeaux died when he was struck by an out-of-control SUV while cycling in the Broussard area. Cycling was one of Comeaux’s passions, although most people knew him as a pathologist at Our Lady of Lourdes and many more knew him as a multi-instrumentalist alumnus of seminal rock and Cajun bands Coteau and Beausoleil.
Photo by Robin May
For the first time since the year he died, the annual Medicine Ball fundraising concert will not be held, in large part because the goal of those concerts — to raise $1 million to establish a traditional music program at UL Lafayette in Comeaux’s honor — was surpassed. UL students are learning Cajun fiddle and zydeco accordion at the university.
But the love for Comeaux and the fire to do good in his memory haven’t dimmed, and friends of the late musician recently put some of the surplus funds generated by the committee’s fundraising into building a memorial bicycle rest stop along a scenic route popular with cycling enthusiasts — a place not far from where Comeaux was killed in November of 1997.
“We raised more than $1 million; we still have $40- or $50,000 in the bank, and there’s been a lot of discussion among the committee about whether the committee should disband or keep fundraising,” says Lafayette architect Allen Bacque, who was involved with the project. “The fundraising would go toward scholarships probably to help support the study of traditional music. We don’t know where the committee’s going, but that’s a whole other story.”
An avid cyclist himself, Bacque became friends with Comeaux as members of an unofficial offshoot of the Cajun Cyclists club, taking long, brisk weekend rides through the Cajun countryside, frequently along scenic Bayou Tortue Road in Broussard.
“Biking is where I knew Tommy from. I mean I knew him as a musician up on stage, but I had never met him as a musician. I met him biking,” Bacque recalls. “I used to bicycle a lot. And one day there’s this new guy who shows up for a ride, and I’m in good shape and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, we’re going to spank this guy.’ But we never could drop him; he was a good rider.”
Lafayette clothier Frank Camalo, also a friend of Comeaux’s, spearheaded the drive to erect the bike stop, which features a large stone bearing a titanium plaque — Comeaux, as Bacque recalls, was one of the first local cyclists to ride a titanium bike — manufactured by Begnaud Manufacturing and designed by Megan Barra. Virtually everyone involved — some of the most creative, successful people in the area — donated their time and services. Dr. Bradley Chastant donated the roughly 600 square feet of land at the edge of his property for the memorial. The site features the memorial plaque, a bike rack, a trellis and a gate. It’s located on Aubrey Ozenne Road, which, after it crosses Bayou Tortue, bears the name of the waterway. It’s a winding and surprisingly hilly stretch of road atop the Coteau Ridge popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists that ends at the St. Martinville highway.
The plaque, which has a QR code engraved on it that links to the Tommy Comeaux committee website, was placed on the 15th anniversary of his death.
“Tommy and I weren’t best friends,” says Bacque, who has been on the committee for more than a decade. “But I really appreciated who he was, and it was really tragic the way he died.”