Philanthropist biker: Hundreds mourn John ‘Stoney’ Dionne
BRUNSWICK — The scene outside St. John the Baptist Church on Pleasant Street Wednesday morning resembled a biker rally.
Men and women in black leather and sunglasses lined the parking lot and church steps, the air ringing with the roar of motorcycles before the sound gave way to the chiming of the church bells, signaling the start of the funeral service for John "Stoney" Dionne of Topsham.
Dionne, who died at Mid Coast Hospital on Saturday, Aug. 29, after a fight with cancer, certainly had friends. His impact on people during his 56-year life was evidenced by the hundreds of people who filled the church pews, and his love of motorcycles was reflected in the hundreds of gleaming bikes glistening in the sun outside the church.
Dionne was known as a man who found freedom with two wheels on the road and his head toward the sky. He was also remembered as a tremendous giver to those in need, particularly children with cancer. Turning a motorcycle-riding tradition with friends into a money-making engine for charity, he started Stoney's Lobster Run nearly 30 years ago. The Brunswick-to-Boothbay event ultimately attracted thousands of bikers from across the country.
Seeing the money the event was generating, Eric "Pony" Dionne said, his father looked for the best use for it in Maine.
"He was a helper," said Pony, who spoke on Monday with two of his father's friends, "Grizz" Galipeau and Steve Marois, at a frequent Brunswick hangout, Cuddy's Bar & Grill.
"A lot of people think that bikers are a bad group of people, but this man didn't have a bad bone in his body," Galipeau said. "I mean he gave, gave, gave, and he had such a big heart."
Dionne knew Galipeau and Marois through Bath Iron Works, where he worked for 31 years and served for a time as president of the shipyard's largest union, Local S6. It was during that time that he met Bill Clinton during the U.S. president's visit to BIW, and received a ring from him.
Born and schooled in Brunswick, Dionne's talents included music, which he played at weddings and in lounges, as well as art. He was a sign painter who operated Stone Man Signs.
The many facets of his life also included time spent as an altar boy, as well as service in the Army National Guard. He was a member of the Brunswick Elks, the Knights of Columbus and Topsham Post No. 202 of the American Legion.
Pony Dionne said his father got word he had cancer on June 4. "Like he said, in May he didn't have a care in the world except where his front wheel was gonna take him and where he was gonna get his next Budweiser," Pony recalled. "A week later he was fighting for his life."
Still, Pony said, his father retained a positive outlook. While he couldn't ride in this year's Lobster Run, he was driven along in a limo and "felt really good about it, he enjoyed himself, he was in good spirits."
Pony also recalled his father saying many times that if he died tomorrow, he wouldn't change anything.
"He always said he wasn't here for a long time, he was here for a good time," Pony said, adding with a smile that his father was the only man he knew who could be in Heaven and get away with raising hell.
Stoney Dionne was a guy who would keep you laughing all the time, Galipeau said.
"He was just a jokester," Pony Dionne agreed. "He could bring everybody's spirits up."
After his father's death, Pony took a long ride. "I'm gonna miss riding with him," the son said.
One memory of his father of which he was most proud came after Stoney was diagnosed, and there was talk of some of the Lobster Run money going toward his own battle with cancer.
"Man, he was adamant that it was going to the kids," Pony Dionne said. "That's just the heart that he has."
Galipeau said Stoney's Lobster Run will go on. There will also be a new part of the Lobster Run called the Bandwagon, created by Stoney and Rick Lewis of the band Twyce Shy, through which bands will donate and raise money so that people undergoing issues similar to Stoney's can receive funds for something like a doctor's second opinion, Marois said. A board will determine who needs the money most.
Another creative collaboration of Stoney's was with Marois, from which was born the WPME-TV show "Ridin' Steel." The program highlights motorcycle enthusiasts and the charity runs in which they participate.
"I approached him to see if he'd be interested in being the host of the show," Marois said. "I mean, the man is an icon when it comes to all the motorcyclists throughout the state if not the entire East Coast of the country. He has notoriety. When people think of Stoney, they think ‘biker,' automatically."
Marois added that "why I think Stoney's run is so important is because I believe he represents the freedom that Americans long for. When it comes to the biker, I believe that nobody exhibits the free life like the biker exhibits it ... and Stoney is the epitome of all of that."
Marois also pointed out that Stoney Dionne had friends in many places, from outlaw bikers to Christian bikers and the police.
"He's gained the respect of many, many, many people," he said.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.