A Guard Who Is An Angel
When I first came to The Big Paper Downtown, one of the first folks I met was Ray The Guard.
I still think of his name as officially being Ray The Guard.
If you ever came to The Tribune in the past 17 years, you knew him.
What’s more, if he met you once, he knew you.
For a new guy in a strange, strange place (I’m no longer the new guy but it’s still a strange, strange place), Ray was a beam of light.
Ray was a throwback, in certain ways, to a genteel gentlemen’s era; every guy who sat behind a desk wore a tie then and Ray still did.
He was the first guy you met when you came to the door and, often as not, the last guy to send you off into the night.
Always courteous, always smiling, always with a spring in his step.
No one could be more of a stickler for rules.
Ray proudly showed me how the new security cameras could zoom in on almost every corner and crevice in the large maze of work stations.
He told me how, if a guy was seen picking something up that wasn’t his, Bam!, you kept the tape, showed it to the guy and that was that.
He also taught me a management rule about dealing with lambs that had lost their way: First, they lie. Every time, first they lie. The best interrogation technique is to let ’em lie, send them out of the room and then start again.
When we hired an old college friend of mine as the new newsroom boss a few years ago, I got Ray to tip me off when it would be the guy’s first night time visit to his new digs,
That way, when the Big Boss and the New Boss walked into the New Boss’s office, I could be there, feet up on the desk, pretending to be using his new phone.
“Busted!” said the Big Boss with a smile. The New Boss just grinned at the welcome and knew I hadn’t changed since college.
Our guards have regular rounds during which they walk the building, checking in at key points electronically, maybe a few miles’ worth of walk every hour on the night shift.
The new kids under his purview, Ray once told me, didn’t like the walking.
Ray liked it as much as the talking. Everyone knew Ray and Ray knew everyone.
He also knew your family and would call them by name as they came in.
In the case of the teen queen who runs my home, Ray noted her growth spurts, her braces, her eyeglasses . . . each life passage highlighted with a sense of accomplishment that made Megs glow even more than she usually does.
When she was littler, she’d ask me, as we approached the main entrance, if “That One Guard” would be working.
Then, she’d smile, in anticipation of the flourish with which he’d open the door, the non-sensical “We Have You Table Ready, Madam,” greeting.
He knew my Patti has the bad rheumatoid arthritis and, after a while, if I came in the door first he’d bound to his feet to make sure she got the welcome in, remembering she was a few paces back because she walks a little more slowly than do I.
When I got sick the first time and made my scary trip to Mayo Clinic, one of the things which struck me up there was the way the shuttle bus drivers handled each passenger, most of them patients, with utmost courtesy and patience.
Why was I not surprised when I told the story to Ray and he told me he had once been such a shuttle bus driver? I suspect he wrote the training manual.
I mean, I am sure if I asked a Mayo brother who instructed the Minnesota drivers, they’d simply say: Ray.
That was just one small stop in Ray’s journey through life. He also once ran for mayor of his beloved Mishawaka. I hear the current mayor still greeted him with “Hello Mayor.” I would not be surprised if this was even true.
One of my writers, returning after a several-year hiatus, asked first about Ray before she asked if I had any stories for her to create.
He had that effect on you.
Sure, he had quirks.
Like many big companies, we are a no-smoking environment. You must go outside to smoke.
Every once in awhile, late at night/early in the morning, you could get on an internal elevator and smell the worst dousing of perfume you have ever encountered.
I have worked at U.S. Steel and waded through lime dust and this was worse.
Eventually, it dawned on me that no one would wear that much cheap perfume, especially in a nearly empty building at 2 in the morning.
Someone was smoking in the elevator, occasionally, maybe while making guard rounds and . . . let’s say I never actually witnessed the act, but I sure smelled some cheap perfume on Ray late at night.
When I hit my 23rd wedding anniversary, Ray was as happy as we were. Then, only when asked, did he quietly acknowledge his own love affair, married since 1937.
When his Leota was sick a few years ago, Ray seemed as stricken as she was.
Every day, I asked him how she was doing, and, when the Sunday came that they went back to church together, I knew another speed bump had been overcome.
As I said, when I first got sick, Ray was very concerned and we talked a lot about deepening spirituality.
When Ray first got sick, right before Christmas, we all knew it.
He was moving quite slowly. The laser beams in his eyes were a bit dimmer. It was, he told me, “The death sentence.”
When I had asked him why I survived when I survived and others didn’t, he had counseled me that God’s plans had to be believed before they could be seen.
Now, he was asking the questions.
Why had he and Leota gone through her setback only to have him get the Big One?
I suggested he had to go first to make sure all was in order. He smiled. It was our last conversation, face-to-face.
We did talk after, me cheerleading his making it to 1999 and the end of a century, he cheerful at another Valentine’s Day with his love.
The point is, I am not the only person with whom he shared this part of life’s journey. I am sure he counseled others.
I am sure he lit up other lives,
Ray died on Saturday; in my life, he left as another important person was arriving. One leaves heaven, another gets in, I am sure.
When I say my daily prayers, I always included Ray and the hope he’d slip away calmly and quietly, without pain, to the better place.
Now, I can talk to him through prayer because that’s what I do with friends who have preceded me; he automatically becomes one of the angels watching over fools such as I.
When you enter The Tribune building, on the wall of the vestibule in our company’s front parlor is the listing of those who have won the employee of the year awards.
Ray’s name is on there as the first one. Some would say the only one