A well-known contest signal has gone silent. Dr. Pat Sonnier, W5WMU, of Lafayette, Louisiana, died on April 6 after suffering an apparent heart attack. An ARRL Life Member, he was 78. Sonnier had been licensed since the early 1950s.
A graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Sonnier practiced family medicine in Lafayette. His always enviable signal from W5WMU — and later from W1WMU at his summer home in Lubec, Maine — were testament to his technical skill. In domestic events such as ARRL November Sweepstakes, Sonnier often provided the semi-rare LA or ME multiplier. Champion contester Scott Redd, K0DQ, met W5WMU when Redd and his wife were vacationing in Lubec and spotted the substantial W1WMU antenna farm.
“I had known of and heard Pat, W5WMU, for as long as I can remember,” Redd told ARRL. “His signal from his swampland QTH in Louisiana was always booming on any band, and a review of his antenna farm revealed his seriousness in pursuing dB.”
Sonnier frequently invited others to operate from his station, and he and his wife Alice were gracious hosts. “Operating from Pat’s place in Maine was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in contesting,” Kevin Stockton, N5DX, said on the CQ-Contest Reflector. “It wasn’t the on-air time that stuck with me, but what happened before and after the contests that made both trips so memorable.”
Sonnier hosted multiple winning ARRL November Sweepstakes CW efforts, with Tree Tyree, N6TR, at the helm, and an all-W5 operating team won the 2013 CQ World Wide DX CW from W1WMU in the Multi-Single category.
“Age tried to slow Pat down, but he didn’t know the word ‘surrender.’ He continued to climb the steep set of stairs to the W1WMU shack,” Stockton added. “Despite his physical condition, he would ride his four wheeler into the tower field to check a coax connection or put the finishing touches on his latest antenna.”
Redd said his most salient impression of Sonnier was his zest for ham radio and contesting. “Well into his 8th decade, he undertook to build, maintain, and operate a serious station located in what is probably the premier contest location in the United States. He trucked most of the tower and antenna stock from his home in Louisiana and, with his son, and later Dan [Street], K1TO, put it up and kept it repaired after the harsh Maine winters.”
Street recalled that W5WMU would operate the Florida QSO Party mobile. “Pat was a frequent mobile entrant in the FQP, with his wife Alice driving,” he told the Florida Contest Group reflector. “His station in low-lying southern Louisiana is legendary, with many towers and large arrays.” Street said Sonnier had an insatiable curiosity about all things and was unwaveringly generous.
Sonnier was a founding member and a director of the ARRL-affiliated Louisiana Contest Club. He was the last US radio amateur to host Thomas Andersen, OZ1AA, during Andersen’s globe-circling bicycle journey.
“Pat Sonnier was stellar example of a lifetime spent enjoying our wonderful and ageless hobby,” Redd said.