Rightful recognition

Danette Dooley
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A friend brings the poems of an Ocean Ranger victim to the public

One of the first things Steve Porter thought when he heard that Greg Tiller had gone down with the Ocean Ranger was that his friend didn't live to publish his "extraordinary" body of work.

While Tiller's body remains lost at sea, Porter has ensured his friend is remembered not only as a fun-loving son, brother and friend, but also as a gifted poet and songwriter.

- Photos (Porter) by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram; (siblings) courtesy of Evelyn Tiller

One of the first things Steve Porter thought when he heard that Greg Tiller had gone down with the Ocean Ranger was that his friend didn't live to publish his "extraordinary" body of work.

While Tiller's body remains lost at sea, Porter has ensured his friend is remembered not only as a fun-loving son, brother and friend, but also as a gifted poet and songwriter.

"Random Thoughts: Memories and Writings of Greg Tiller" (DRC Publishing) combines Tiller's poetry and other writings with memories and stories from family and friends.

Porter and Tiller grew up together in Mount Pearl. They remained friends through the years, graduating from high school together in 1977.

Porter first became aware of Tiller's poetry when Tiller returned to Newfoundland after a short stint working in the oil fields in Alberta.

"Greg was also a bit of a musician. He played the piano and the guitar. He used to play some of the poems that he'd written in his journal," Porter says.

Porter himself grew up around words. His father, the late John Porter, was a teacher. His mother, Helen Fogwill Porter, is a well-known Newfoundland author.

Porter says he often encouraged Tiller to publish his poetry.

"And he was in the process of doing that. He had somebody typing them for him."

After Tiller's death, Porter often thought of approaching his friend's family about the poetry. However, he says, he couldn't bring himself to do so.

"I knew they were having a very difficult time with Greg's death. So, I left them alone."

Two years ago, during the reunion of the 1977 class of Mount Pearl Central High, Porter had an opportunity to meet Tiller's mother, Evelyn Tiller.

"She came to the reunion. I asked her about Greg's poetry and she was OK with it," he says.

While a typed version of Tiller's poems has been printed in the book, it's his original hand-written journal pages - each appearing on the page opposite the typed version - that grab the reader's attention.

Several of Tiller's poems are as prophetic as they are dark.

The last poem the 21-year-old wrote, titled "Rig," was written in February 1982 (the same month the Ocean Ranger sank).

The poem speaks of how the sea will one day have its revenge.

Porter says Tiller often shared his feelings of a pending disaster at sea with him and other close friends.

"He didn't like what he was doing and said it was a mess out on that particular rig. He wanted to quit and he had plans to quit. This was going to be his last trip. He was going to register for school. He wanted to do journalism."

In his introduction to "Random Thoughts," Mount Pearl native Geoff Meeker describes Tiller as "a gifted writer, with the soul of an artist."

"Had he lived, I am convinced our province would have another writer of the stature of Des Walsh, Wayne Johnston and Ed Riche," Meeker wrote.

Tiller's friend, Robert Burgess, wrote the foreword to the book.

During a recent interview, Burgess, who now lives in Saudi Arabia, said what he remembers most about Tiller is his laugh.

"It was contagious. He was a great guy, full of life. But tragedy struck," he says.

Burgess sees Porter's book as a great legacy to a great man.

"What Steve has done for Greg and his family is a tribute to Steve and his desire to have Greg remembered. He was the driving force behind it. We're just passengers on it," he says of his contribution to the book.

Tiller was the only boy in a family of five siblings.

His sister, Geri Tiller, says local author Mike Heffernan (author of "Rig: an Oral History of the Ocean Ranger Disaster") described Porter's book best when he referred to "Random Thoughts" as "a testament of enduring friendship."

"That so many people contributed anecdotes after 27 years means much to me, and my family," Geri says.

Geri says she'd read her brother's journal many times through the years.

However, she says, Porter's compilation "gives everything an entirely new perspective."

"I see a different young man, a deep thinker, spiritual, kind, understanding and gentle," she says.

Geri says the fact that many of her brother's writings are threaded with unrequited love and loneliness often bothered her.

But her brother didn't seemed bothered about expressing his thoughts.

"Friends knew he wrote poetry or lyrics, and he wasn't embarrassed about it. ... He was proud of his writing," she says.

"Now, 27 years later, thanks to Steve Porter, his work is published. I would rather he were alive to see it, but perhaps he already knows."

"Random Thoughts" will be launched at Hotel Mount Pearl (formerly Chateau Park), 7 Park Ave., Mount Pearl today from 5-9 p.m.

danette@nl.rogers.com




[Huge Iron Island...]

Huge Iron Island
Thirty-seven stories high
Two City-blocks square
Deny its significance if you dare
Huge Iron Island
Impervious to the attacks of an indignant ocean
Mother Earth is victimized
by this man-made mechanical rapist
and grudgingly surrenders her treasure
to the oil magnate with the dollar-sign eyes
Our mutton-headed trails behind this pied-piper
bickering over the loose change falling
through the holes of his pockets
Mother Earth created us, raised us, taught us,
sheltered us, and this is how
we repay her
Beware, she shall have her revenge.

Organizations: DRC Publishing

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Alberta Iron Island Saudi Arabia Chateau Park 7 Park Ave.

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Recent comments

  • Keith
    April 24, 2012 - 18:50

    THANKS: I took Derek B for a run and treated him to supper last Sunday. He said, he had met Steve Porter at the Hockey game in Mount Pearl...and he gave me a book about Greg Tiller...well I had to see that. Derek got the book and I borrowed it. When I got home I began reading. I began to remember. I want to say Thanks again...it is a work of art Steve Porter. I knew Greg and the old gang at that time...Greg was talanted...he was very smart...he was well liked...I still miss him. This book helped me positively to remember that very tragic time...I will always remember Greg with fondness...I knew him well.

  • former Pearlian
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    I grew up in Mount Pearl and although we did'nt exactly hang out, I had chatted with Greg a few times. I had the impression from those occasions that Greg was a bit of a deep thinker for a guy in his teens. Mind you, he enjoyed a joke or quip as much as the next guy.

    What Steve Porter is doing for Greg must surely be gratifying for Greg's family and those who were close to Greg.

  • former Pearlian
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    I grew up in Mount Pearl and although we did'nt exactly hang out, I had chatted with Greg a few times. I had the impression from those occasions that Greg was a bit of a deep thinker for a guy in his teens. Mind you, he enjoyed a joke or quip as much as the next guy.

    What Steve Porter is doing for Greg must surely be gratifying for Greg's family and those who were close to Greg.