The province has lost too many of its people in the last few weeks.
Some by natural means, some by violence. Some through tragic circumstances. Some at the hand of others.
In a very real sense, all deaths are tragic, as Alexander Pope pointed out, in that each passing takes something away from all of us.
In Springdale, too, as in most other communities, we have known our losses. Some before they had scarcely had a chance to know what life is all about, and others in the fullness of their years.
Each is missed by the circle of friends and families and those who knew them. Sometimes the circles are larger; others less so, depending on the circumstances of their lives.
Last week, the province lost two people whose circles embraced a great many more than usual, and included those who had never met them.
On what I think was my second evening in Springdale as the brand-new principal of the high school, I made my way to the nearby sports field where several people were watching a softball game.
I was watching the players and the spectators and wondering who among them would be my students in a few weeks.
I caught several curious glances thrown my way and some people smiled and said hello as though they knew who I was.
Suddenly I found myself face to face with a big man who was larger than life in size and personality, and who thrust both upon me with a strong handshake and a booming voice.
He was Gord Seabright, he said, and paused to let that sink in. When it hadn’t seemed to sink far enough, he added the rather significant title of Magistrate Seabright, and if that wasn’t enough, he casually mentioned that he was a member of the school board. That did have an impact.
While we watched the game, he talked about how proud they all were of the school that was then known as Grant Collegiate, some of its history and the people involved with it. The tone of his voice, as well as his words, suggested that if I knew what was good for me I had better not consider letting down anyone in Springdale who had anything to do with the building of that school.
We went on from there to talk about the church with which we were both involved and he was not slow to express his feelings on what was right with it and what was wrong with it on a local, national and worldwide basis. I realized that Gordon Seabright, magistrate and member of the school board, was a man with definite views and opinions.
The last time we met was at a hotel in St. John’s where Marion and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary. When he discovered what we were doing there, he announced to Marion, “He may not be as good as he once was, but he’s probably as good once as he ever was.” Then he bought us lunch.
Few people in this province made as much of an impact on the communities in which they lived as Gordon Seabright. He was a part of everything and took a leadership and driving role in all of it. From winter carnivals to youth groups to the Shriners, Gord was heavily involved and more than pulled his own considerable weight.
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Joey Smallwood never knew back in 1938 that his nemesis and the most articulate means of his eventual political demise was being born and nurtured in Placentia Bay. He was blissfully unaware that the acerbic and delightfully vicious wit that would later be developed in journalism school and through various genres would one day be aimed with deadly accuracy and mortal effect at the first premier of the last province.
At the height of his gifts as a political humour columnist, Ray Guy was quoted daily up and down the length and breath of the province he loved so much. In school staff rooms, in various watering holes where people gathered at the end of a working day, during coffee breaks in large businesses and institutions, and in fishing skiffs and longliners, the topic of discussion was more often than not, “Did you see what Ray Guy said in the paper yesterday?”
What Ray said would invariably cause great hilarity followed by intense discussion.
When I began writing myself, it was for our own little local paper here in Green Bay. But then The Telegram saw something in my writing that neither I nor anyone else has seen before. I was totally flabbergasted and absolutely delighted. I had been hired by the same paper that had Ray Guy as a columnist.
What giddy heights had I reached! I had arrived!. It was almost the same as lumping together the Bible, William Shakespeare, Ray Guy and Edward Smith.
It would only be a matter of time before I was syndicated in a hundred weekly papers at $10 a shot.
I might even win the coveted Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, just as Ray had done with his second book, “That Far Greater Bay.” The sky was the limit. Why, I might even try writing a book myself.
Reality set in gently, like a 90-pound boulder falling down the face of a cliff. I was no Ray Guy. A teacher once showed me an essay one of his students had written comparing Ray Guy and Ed Smith as columnists.
“Ray Guy is always mad,” he said. “It’s hard to tell with Ed Smith.”
I never knew if it was a compliment or not. But I did get encouragement from my good friend June Warr and another Telegram columnist who has since passed on, Bob Nutbeem, both of whom were the first to write letters to the editor praising my literary genius.
But even though he was my inspiration to be a columnist and a writer, I knew I was never in Ray’s class. Very few are.
Hard to imagine two more different personalities with such different gifts to give than Seabright and Guy.
But both changed the lives of many of us for the better.
Ed Smith is an author who lives
in Springdale. His email address is email@example.com.