Many of the personal milestones we experience in life are never forgotten, never far removed from our thoughts.
Our first day in school, our last day in school, the first date with our future spouse, our wedding day, the birth of our first child, the births of our other children. The list is endless.
There’s also the first day in a chosen career.
That was one of the notable points I thought about as I journeyed through the research phase of writing my upcoming memoirs.
My first day of getting paid to write. It was significant in my mind because I never wanted to do anything else. I just dreamed of being a sports writer.
It was 62 years ago, in September of 1954.
I was covering a high school rugby game between New Glasgow High and St. John’s Academy at the field next to our school on Albert Street.
It was my first day representing the Evening News, my first day when I could call myself a newspaperman. I was 16 and feeling like a little kid on Christmas morning.
The week before, the new sports editor at the News, Ricky Fraser, just 20 years old himself, wanted to increase coverage of local school sports and hired students at Pictou County’s various high schools.
Eleanor Howard got the assignment at Stellarton High, Red MacMahan was given the job at St. John’s Academy, Tom Quann was the representative for Pictou Academy.
East Pictou and Westville chose to have different writers each week. I was the fortunate one at NGHS.
From that first afternoon, I loved what I was doing. I couldn’t get enough of it. I covered as many rugby games as possible, I covered the school’s hockey team, its boys and girls basketball teams, whatever was being played.
I got to appreciate the work and dedication of young people who played sports. Ruggers like George Manos, George Harper, Bobby Wadden, Ronnie Roper, Francis Desmond and Wayne Dickson, who helped New Glasgow win the Nova Scotia rugby A championship that year. Basketball players like David Somerville, Sean Power, John Hamm, Donnie Thompson and Keith Arthurs. Girls like Willena Borden, Anita Christensen, Helen MacLeod, Evelyn Monck, Carol McRae, Faye and Linda Mackie.
Writing school sports wasn’t my first opportunity in the so-called media world.
I spent the previous summer at John (Brother) MacDonald’s side as he broadcast the Stellarton Albions baseball games for CKEC. The league was dominated by young Americans, but Brother was the league batting champion just three seasons earlier.
I was Brother’s scorekeeper, recording every play, often making comments on the air when he needed to catch his breath or grab a drink of water. It was a fun summer. We did all the games in Stellarton and travelled to the other parks in Truro, Halifax, Dartmouth, Kentville and Liverpool.
It was during the ball season that I met Ricky and told him how much I wanted to become a sports journalist like him. I didn’t know he would be hiring me not long after baseball was finished.
By the time hockey began, Ricky was giving me assignments beyond high school sports. For instance, the New Glasgow Rangers and Stellarton-Pictou Royals were among teams in the APC Hockey League. It meant conflicts, so Ricky gave me games to cover.
That was another fun job because that winter, the Rangers, coached by goalie Paul LeClerc, won the APC and Nova Scotia championships. That was when I began knowing people like Nelson Wilson, Leo Fahey, Bert Dalling, Ducky MacLean, Ralph Cameron and Mark Babineau.
My association with Ricky and the News didn’t end there. I wrote sports for them during my last two high school years and my university years. While at St. Francis Xavier University, then University of King’s College, I used to joke that I knew the varsity coaches better than my professors. It was true.
Ricky and I remained friends, even after I joined The Chronicle Herald and became the provincial paper’s Pictou County bureau chief. That made us competitors, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying great experiences together.
Ricky was young and wanted to move on. He left the county in 1962 to become sports editor of the Barrie Examiner in the Ontario city. In 1963, he was promoted to news editor and recommended me as his successor. I went there, heard what they had to offer, but decided I’d rather stay in Nova Scotia.
Ricky did well in Ontario. He worked for the Examiner, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun. Golf became his favourite and more than one prominent writer in Toronto called him one of the best-known reporters at events like the Masters.
In 2000, Ricky’s writing ended. He passed away in a Toronto hospital following a short illness. He was just 65.
I can’t talk about Ricky without mentioning two others who contributed greatly to the New Glasgow paper.
There was Charlie Stevens, who served as sports editor before Ricky, went to the U.S. and got into business in Rhode Island, then returned to his old position, again playing a major role in publicizing local sports.
There was Wilkie Taylor, who worked alongside both Ricky and Charlie at the local daily and often covered sports during busy times. Wilkie replaced me at the New Glasgow bureau, eventually moved to metro and became a valuable editor at the Herald. After retiring, he returned to the county and resides on New Glasgow’s west side.
And so it’s now been three score and two years since I was hired for that high school job – the start of over six decades of loving to write, loving to report Nova Scotia sports.
As I start my 63rd year in the newspaper business, I think of Ricky. Often I wonder where I may have wound up if I hadn’t gotten that long-ago opportunity with him.