It's so important to remember people--to make sure that their stories live on. I wrote this story in January 2009, to honour someone supported by Christian Horizons. The story exemplifies our Vision Statement because Ralph's God-given gifts, his life, and his response to adversity were simply inspirational.
People with exceptional needs belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.
This morning dawned cold in Ontario.
As I got ready for the day, I listened to CBC radio. On the morning show they were reading emails from listeners who described the weather conditions in their part of the province.
It had been a crystal clear winter's night with a full moon. Apparently the moon was as close to the earth as it ever gets. A listener described an early morning walk in the woods, with the moon descending in the west. She said that the woods were floodlit electric blue. What beauty that description conjured up.
On an end table I noticed a folded bulletin from a funeral I had attended the previous Monday. I kept it because I wanted to write about Ralph, who died on New Year's Eve at the age of almost 83.
Ralph's funeral was attended by family and a collection of friends from a cross section of society in Barrie. The funeral service was led by his friend of 32 years, Pastor John Howard, and in the congregation was more than one lawyer, as well as staff from several agencies who had supported him at various times in his life. He had friends everywhere, many of them in high places.
This photograph was taken at the party in April last year, to celebrate one of his dreams that came true at the age of 83--moving into an apartment, at last.
He died with one dream unfulfilled; he always hoped to find a wife.
Ralph's life story could be a script for a movie on injustice and tragedy but he was a man with an air of immense dignity, and he had faith and perseverance enough to move mountains.
In 1965, a series of catastrophic events that were not his fault, resulted him being charged with murder, a charge for which he was not allowed to stand trial because he was deemed unfit to do so. Instead he was placed in a psychiatric facility. Although he couldn't write, he got people to write letters for him. 11 years later, in 1976, in response to one of his letters, a young United Church minister, John Howard, drove up to Penetang to visit him.
John became his friend, and began to advocate for Ralph. Several years later, Ralph finally had his day in court and gained his freedom. By then he had been captive for almost 15 years.
Each year since then Ralph had an annual lunch date with the lawyer who, with John, befriended and helped him. Had he been bitter it would have been understandable, but he was just grateful.
To the last he kept busy, shoveling snow in the winter and mowing grass in the summer, and he kept his lawn mower chained to a tree in someone's back yard.
The manager of the team that supported him last, shared these thoughts about Ralph:
Ralph was always very appreciative of the support that he received. He often remarked on how he wanted to take the staff out for coffee or dream about how he will share his Lottery winnings with the staff. The Lottery winnings would always be millions of dollars. Ralph loved to sit down and eat. Whether it was a huge breakfast, a hearty lunch or a substantial snack, Ralph would eat it all. Ralph kept short accounts; he was very forgiving and wanted to be at peace with everyone.
Ralph had so many leadership qualities that he would make a Leadership guru proud. Ralph was tenacious, he had boundless energy, and he was passionate about his work. He considered his work a calling from God and he served faithfully. He loved his work and appreciated his employers. He was so concerned about getting his work done that he was worried that his employers would tell him to “hit the road” if he didn't show up. Ralph was very goal oriented and reviewed his goals on an ongoing basis. Ralph surrounded himself with positive and influential people with whom he consulted regularly. Ralph was driven and his drive was unstoppable. Ralph was a Maverick and visionary. For Ralph, life was always going to be better around the next corner.
Sundays were very important days for Ralph. This was the day he went to church and where he was surrounded by his church family. He came to church to be nourished for the coming week. Ralph knew that he could not do his work in his own strength but only by God’s grace.
We are thankful for the short time that we had with Ralph and take comfort that he has found peace with the Lord at last.