Joseph Phillipe Lemercier Laroche was the son of a white French army captain and a Haitian woman who was a descendant of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first ruler of independent Haiti. Laroche’s uncle, Dessalines M. Cincinnatus, was president of Haiti from 1911 to 1912.
Joseph Laroche grew up among the privileged upper class in Haiti and received his early education from private tutors. He decided on a career in engineering. He received his certificate in engineering in 1907. Laroche married Juliette Marie Louise Lafargue and they had two daughters.
Although he worked briefly on the Paris Metro line, he had great difficulty finding & keeping a job in France due to racial discrimination. As a consequence the new family was forced to reside with Juliette’s father.Their youngest child, Marie Louise, had medical problems which also strained the family’s finances and by 1912 they were expecting a third child.
This situation led Laroche to decide to return to Haiti where he believed his family’s political connections would guarantee a handsome income for his work. Laroche’s mother sent the family tickets to return to Haiti aboard the La France. However, the ocean liner’s policy banning children dining with their parents in the dining room led him to exchange their first class tickets for second class tickets on the R.M.S. Titanic.
On April 10, 1912, Laroche and his family boarded the Titanic. They enjoyed the opulent amenities of the ship, dining in the same dining room as its first-class passengers. They were subjected to stares and insults from passengers and crew who frowned upon interracial marriages. After the sinking of the Titanic, the White Star Line extended a public apology for the racism exhibited by its crew members toward its non-white passengers including Laroche.
As the ship sank in the early morning of April 15, Laroche stuffed the pockets of his coat with money and jewels and took his wife and children up to the boat deck. He wrapped the coat around his wife, and his last words to her were: “Here, take this, you are going to need it. I’ll get another boat. God be with you. I’ll see you in New York.” Joseph Laroche died in the sinking of the Titanic. His body was never recovered. His wife Juliette returned to Paris with her daughters and gave birth to their son, Joseph Lemercier Laroche on December 17, 1912.