Philippe Coursodon was a dog owner's best friend.
As a groomer, he was skilled at sculpting an unruly mop into a show-ring contender.
And he took as much interested in his two-legged customers as he did in their four-legged companions.
"His clients — every single one of them — were personal friends. He really cared about them," said his daughter, Christine Coursodon.
That's why it came as a blow to many when Coursodon's son called dozens of longtime clients last month to tell them of his father's death.
Coursodon was diagnosed with throat cancer — squamous cell carcinoma — in October 2006. He survived radiation treatments, chemotherapy and radical surgery to remove the cancer and rebuild his throat only to be diagnosed with melanoma a year after he was deemed cancer-free.
"Even though he couldn't eat … he still enjoyed life," said his wife of nearly 28 years, Nancy Coursodon. Even after the second diagnosis, he didn't give up. He continued enjoying life — working, traveling, playing music, painting, fishing, scuba diving, building models of tall ships and communicating with friends around the globe via ham radio — until his death on May 22. He was 51.
Coursodon was born in Suresnes, France, and moved with his family to the United States as a boy. His father was a university lecturer who taught at Columbia and worked as a United Nations translator.
Young Philippe inherited his love of animals from his mother. The family always had dogs, including collie-mixes Lady and Sundance, who shared a New York apartment with the Coursodons. As a teen, Philippe worked in pet stores before following his mother's career path and becoming a groomer.
He graduated from Manhattan's International School of Dog Grooming in 1978. He worked in grooming salons in New York and New Jersey, where he specialized in small dogs, poodles in particular.
"It takes a lot of dexterity to do it right and make it look spherical," said his son, Philippe Coursodon Jr., who now runs the family business, K-9 Kruiser Mobile Pet Grooming. It helped that his father was ambidextrous and could clip equally well with either hand.
Coursodon met his future wife, Nancy, while they worked at the same grooming salon. They wed in 1981, had their two children and tried to make ends meet. Grooming jobs were difficult to come by, Nancy Coursodon said, so her husband earned a living as a maitre d' at high-end New York hotels while working weekends as a groomer.
In 1989 the family moved to Tucson — they had relatives in Southern Arizona and they liked the climate.
Coursodon began grooming full time for local kennels and mobile services. Though he enjoyed working with the animals and meeting their owners, Coursodon grew frustrated with the lack of control he had working for others. Instead of rushing from one booking to another every hour, he wanted a flexible schedule so he could take his time with the dogs and cats he was grooming, make accommodations for special-needs pets and get to know their owners.
In 1998, he bought an old, white van, retrofitted it for bathing and grooming and started K-9 Kruiser. The fleet has since grown to three vans with a staff of four groomers.
"The business was his baby," his daughter said. "He molded it and loved it."
Coursodon groomed Ramona Zinkin's spaniel mix, Hallmark, for 10 years.
"He was the most personable person in the whole wide world — always friendly, always a hug, always patient with my dog, who's a little nervous, always prompt. I never waited a minute for him in all those years," Zinkin said. "His heart was 200 percent in it and not only the clients could tell that, the dogs could tell that.
"I always brewed espresso for him because he loved his coffee and he knew that it was waiting for him. He took the time to be personable. That's a treasure and a gift," she said.
Coursodon had another fan in Jane Wall. He was able to calm her golden retriever, Sam, who was nervous about grooming.
"He was very happy to have Philippe around after he got to know him," Wall said of her dog. "He was a wonderful person with animals. He always could handle anything that could happen," even when Sam became rambunctious during his baths.
"He had a rapport with the people, too. He would do anything for you and was concerned. He didn't just come in bathe the dog and go. He would visit and it was like he was part of the family after a while," she said.
Coursodon began grooming Gayle Dahl's dogs in 1993 while he was still working for another business. When he opened his own mobile service, Dahl and her dogs followed.
"Philippe was such a wonderful man and he was so gentle with the animals," Dahl said.
"He was just a really warm wonderful human being. I don't think he ever met a person that he didn't like. He was somebody that once you knew him, he was your friend."
Often, after grooming pets, Coursodon took time to visit with their owners. If any of them, especially his elderly clients, needed help, they could count on Coursodon.
He replaced the heavy five-gallon water bottles on their home dispensers. He had patches sewn onto a service dog's vest for a disabled client. After his diagnosis, if clients were struggling with cancer, he took time to sit and listen to their worries.
Coursodon even clipped the toenails of one elderly client who wasn't flexible enough to do it herself.
"That's the kind of person he was," his daughter said. "He said to me and Philippe Jr., 'Try to do one act of kindness every day.' He made a point of doing it, but he never bragged about it. He really strived to be a good person."
Find a photo gallery of this Life Story at azstarnet.com/slideshows
This feature chronicles the lives of recently deceased Tucsonans. Some were well-known across the community. Others had an impact on a smaller sphere of friends, family and acquaintances. Many of these people led interesting — and sometimes extraordinary — lives with little or no fanfare. Now you'll hear their stories.