Hes still with me

Tommy Ricketts widows memories of the VC winner are as vivid as ever and she still keeps their engagement announcement in her purse

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on November 11, 2008
Edna Ricketts has plenty of reminders of her late husband, Victoria Cross winner Tommy Ricketts, including his service portrait (background). Photo by Terry Roberts/The Telegram

He's been dead for more than 40 years, but Edna Ricketts says her late husband, Victoria Cross winner Tommy Ricketts, is still with her every day.
He's there in her memories and, in a more tangible way, in the photos and other memorabilia - including miniature replicas of his Victoria Cross and other service medals - that hang on the walls of her room at a St. John's personal care home.
"He's always with me," says the soft-spoken, gracious 95-year-old.
She keeps an extra-special keepsake in her purse. It's a plastic billfold that contains her engagement announcement to Ricketts, a service portrait of her late husband taken after the First World War, and another photo of Ricketts as a middle-aged man.
"He never got pudgy around the middle like many men do," she quips, looking at the black and white photograph.
It's been 90 years since Ricketts, a teenager at the time, distinguished himself in battle during the waning days of the Great War.
When asked to comment on the anniversary of her late husband's shining moment on the battlefield, she says it's no more of an occasion this year than it was at any time when her husband was alive.
She says he never made an issue of being a VC recipient, and neither did she.
"People have a lot more to say about him now in death than they ever did in life," says Edna, who married Ricketts in the early 1930s.
She was 12 years younger than her husband, and is reluctant to speak about her life with a war hero.
But she acknowledges that he was profoundly affected by the experience.
"I think something happened in the war that he was carrying inside of him to his death. He was very troubled with something. I don't know, and now he's gone. It's with him still," she says.
Ricketts was painfully shy and often rebuffed the attention a VC winner would attract.
He didn't even talk about his accomplishments or the war at home, Edna recalls, and kept his medals in a desk drawer.
But he was extremely kind, was respectful and supportive of his family, and would never engage in a quarrel, she notes.
She says he would have made a "brilliant doctor" and enjoyed treating young children for coughs and colds. He rarely charged children - especially those from underprivileged families - for medicine, she says.
He also stood firmly on his principles. Edna recalls that on one occasion, then-premier Joey Smallwood tried to convince Ricketts, a staunch Progressive Conservative, to join the Liberal party.
"I remember Joey Smallwood telling him, 'Join my party and you'll be the richest man in Newfoundland.' Of course, Tom just told him where to go. He came from a small outport and that's the way he lived all his life," she says.
Ricketts owned a drugstore on Water Street, at the corner of Job Street, for many years.
He suffered a heart attack in the late 1940s, endured years of severe chest pain, and died suddenly at his business on Feb. 10, 1967.
Edna recalls her final conversation with her husband. It was over the phone.
St. John's was in the grip of a fierce storm and a power outage, but Ricketts was still at work, bundled up in a thick layer of sweaters.
"This morning I called him, he said the lights and heat had just come on. I said, 'Thank God.' I told him I was going to come down with a tin opener and operate on him to get some of the clothes off. We laughed and joked on the phone."
He died about an hour later.
"That's how I remember our last words," she says.