A self-taught entrepreneur, Thibeau led a colorful life. From his travels across the U.S. as the manager of a bluegrass band while still a teenager, to faceting gemstones and tinkering with pocket watches in his 70’s and 80’s, he avidly pursued varied interests.
Born in Boston, Thibeau grew up in Forest Hills. He developed polio as a young child and spent his youth in and out of school. An entrepreneur even at an early age, he and his brother Bill made and sold funeral wreaths near their home. He ran away from home several times before being enrolled in the Connecticut Junior Republic in Litchfield, CT at the age of thirteen — a private, non-profit organization dedicated to helping at risk, special needs, and troubled youth, where he was treasurer of the student body. He drove a cab at sixteen, worked as a roofer, sold encyclopedias, and was a dance instructor at the Arthur Murray School of Dance in his late teens and early twenties.
He moved from Boston to Groton in 1954 with his wife Mary K. and two young sons to restore an early saltbox house. A few years later, he formed a pioneering printed circuit company, Conductorlab, which he sold in 1967.
In the late 1960’s he founded one of Boston’s most famous music and performance venues, The Ark, on the old Buck Printing Company site at 13-15 Lansdowne Street. The Ark later merged with The Boston Tea Party and paved the way for the several music venues and nightclubs along Lansdowne Street, many of which still exist today. Featured performers included the Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and the J. Geils Band, to name just a few. Legend has it that The Who was paid $500.00 for a weekend of shows, during which the band performed its rock opera, Tommy.
Thibeau founded a non-profit organization, the National Foundation for Environmental Control in Boston, in 1970, which published one of the nation’s first directories of environmental resources and was involved in the first Earth Day that same year.
In the early 1970’s Thibeau concentrated on one of his first loves, furniture making, and started the Yankee Doodle Toy Company with his son Dana, producing wooden folk toys. While carefully reproducing copies of Colonial-era museum pieces as the Country Bed Shop, he wanted to provide an authentic finish for the Windsor chairs, hutches, four-poster beds and other pieces he produced. Many of the original furniture designs would have been finished with a casein-based milk paint, and to duplicate this Thibeau set out to recreate an authentic formula for this long-lost paint for use on his own work. He spent two years and countless hours studying old formulas and conducted countless experiments in his basement until he finally got it right.
At the time, Yankee Magazine was producing a series of books on the “forgotten arts.” They interviewed Thibeau for a chapter about making paint from scratch. When the book was published, Thibeau’s phone started ringing off the hook and his next company, the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company, was born. At this time, another business, Craftsman Lumber Company, specializing in wide plank flooring and paneling, began as an offshoot of his furniture business. The paint and lumber businesses are still in operation today, run by his family.
Another of Thibeau’s passions was cars. Along with a friend, Dave Johnson, he built several custom kit cars in the 1970’s. One, a Bugatti, took first place at the Boston Auto Show that year. Charles was a past president of both the Groton-Pepperell Rotary and the Groton Business Association, was a former member of the Groton Planning Board, and was elected to the Guild of Master Craftsmen in London in 1981.
He was predeceased by his wife, Mary K. (Pickard) and son, Matthew Whittier. He leaves behind his sons Gregory C. Thibeau and wife Annaliza of Groton and Camiguin Island, Philippines; Dana P. Thibeau and wife Caron Soond of West Newbury and Vineyard Haven, MA; Mark P. Thibeau and wife Jacqueline of West Groton, MA; daughter Anne S. Thibeau and husband Brian Senecal of Townsend, MA; grandchildren Rebecca Mohajeri Bryant, husband Steven Bryant and daughter Avery Mills of Rockville, MD; Juliette K. Thibeau of West Groton, MA; Joshua Charles and Avril Thibeau of Groton, MA; and Jessica Varga and great grandchildren Lucy and Seth Varga of Florida. He also leaves his dear companion of several years, Blanche Foss of Harvard, MA and dedicated caregiver Zipporah Wanjori, to whom his family is eternally grateful. He was also leaves two sisters, Sr. M. Stephanie, L.S.A. (Rita Thibeau) of Worcester, MA; Lucille E. (Betty) Foley and her husband George of Mashpee, MA; a brother, William J.Thibeau and his wife Dottie of Revere, MA. He is predeceased by his sisters Evelyn Danforth and Lorraine (Casey) Ribeiro. He also leaves many beloved nieces, nephews, and their children.
Visiting hours are from 2–4 p.m. and 6–8 p.m. on Sunday, April 1 at the Badger Funeral Home, 45 School St. Groton. A Funeral Mass of Christian Burial will be held Monday at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Grace Parish worshipping at St. James Church in West Groton.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Charles Thibeau’s name to Nashoba Nursing and Hospice, 2 Shaker Road, Suite D-225, Shirley, MA 01464.