I lost a longtime friend on Friday night. I hadn’t spoken with him in a couple of months. And I hadn’t seen him in longer than that – probably it was that time our families bumped into each other at the mall or the hardware store, and we all pounced on each other with hugs and kisses and promises, yet again, to get together for dinner soon.
This is the week that I regret we never cemented those plans.
We all have people in our past who meant something, who, for better or for worse, helped shaped the person we became. Ray Cohen was my first full-time boss after university. Come to think of it, he was my only full-time boss, since, after working with him for 13 years, I left to expand my own business.
For a very long time, Ray was in my life on a day-to-day basis. We went to each other’s weddings, we cheered each other’s milestones. He knew all my bad habits, I knew his. He appreciated my strengths and I truly appreciated his.
As I often remind people, we are none of us girl guides. Like any pair of colleagues, Ray and I didn’t see eye to eye on all work issues. But we were simpatico when it came to the things that mattered more: friendships, family, laughter. He had a sharp and wicked sense of humour. He was a warm hugger. He was the pal you wanted by your side in times of crisis, because he always came through.
And since this blog is about good deeds, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about one of the biggest things he ever did. Ray established the Canadian Abilities Foundation and started Abilities magazine, a publication that connected people with disabilities nationwide and linked them to information, long before there was Internet. He did this because he saw a need. He met young people with disabilities who came of age and saw their childhood services and supports fall away. Ray knew that in order to be empowered as adults with disabilities, they needed access to advice and ideas.
Ray sacrificed a secure job, moved to a new province, to try and fill the gap that he’d identified. Not only did he publish a magazine for many years, but he ultimately oversaw production of a number of disability-themed directories and online resources.
He was truly passionate about his work, so much so that the lines were constantly blurred between colleagues and friends, between after-hours meetings and social life. I know he made a difference to a whole lot of people. And that’s the legacy he leaves behind.
This week, I’m extremely sad that he’s suddenly gone. I’m sorry that we never did do that dinner date. Within 24 hours of leaving the shiva for Ray, I’d cemented plans to get together with another longtime pal and her family.
It’s not the only way to honour an old friend, but it’s a good one.