Gentle Into That Good Night

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.

“Could we see when and where we are to meet again, we would be more tender when we bid our friends goodbye.”

“Could we see when and where we are to meet again, we would be more tender when we bid our friends goodbye.”

18 responses to “Gentle Into That Good Night

  1. What a touching tribute, Lisa! Every word you say is true. Ray had that affect on so many people, and I’m so glad I saw him just last month, as he proudly received his Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. I was the recipient of that famous hug of his. How I cherish it now. Well done, good and faithful servant … well done.

  2. This is lovely, Lisa. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thanks so much, Lorin.

  4. Lisa, what a tender tribute to a beautiful soul who left us too soon. I recall Ray as a compassionate and generous person, and forever was beholden to him for welcoming my story on the late Everett Soop, a brilliant and under-recognized Blackfoot political cartoonist afflicted with muscular dystrophy, yet so strong in spirit.
    Blessings for your acknowledgment of a good man, Sandy

  5. What an extraordinary man Ray was. Full of love, patience, passion, humour and intelligence. Ray was a big influence in my life as well one who inspired me to begin Lights, Camera, Access! (LCA!) He sat on our advisory council for a time, providing guidance and input –collaberating and working together. May the legacy he began live on through his organization and through those he touched, influenced and impacted. Many tears are flowing. Ray will certainly be missed!
    My symapthy to the family.

  6. Loving the comments. Thank you so much for sharing your memories this way.

  7. I think he would feel very happy about the recent dinner plans after his death, and also happy about this moving article about your friendship with him.

  8. What a nice thing to say, lemon123. Thank you.

  9. I have a similar regret, with an art teacher who was a big inspiration to me, wish I could have had one last visit. I will try not to make that mistake again.
    Thank you for sharing…

  10. We did not see eye to eye on things but he did good work. He will be missed, Im sure. Somehow I felt that he was one of those people who would just go on forever. His legacy will.

  11. Seems to me you were working a story for Abilities and that is how we reconnected after 25+ years. Although I never did have the opportunity to meet him, I can only imagine from reading this the profound impact he had on so many lives with his dedication.

  12. Thanks all for the thoughts. Anonymous, I don’t know who you are, but reconnections are magical. So if it happened thanks to Abilities, awesome.

  13. I am very proud to have been a part of the Abilities family for a number of years as proofreader/copy editor of the magazine. The stories I read on a bi-monthly basis never ceased to amaze me and were certainly proof of the need for such a publication. Ray was a remarkable man. What a nice tribute, Lisa. I have such found memories of him and am so sad to hear this news. He was certainly a positive force in my own life and so I can imagine the loss in the lives of others, particularly his family’s. He will be missed. It was nice to develop a relationship with you over the years too, Lisa!

  14. Ray was my mother’s brother, my uncle. We didn’t see him very often but the loss of him is really felt. Thanks for a wonderfully written blog and tribute to a great guy. I know so many people loved him and will miss him terribly.

  15. Ray was clearly so much to so many people. Thank you.

  16. Thank you for that, Lisa, it’s lovely. I just learned of Ray’s passing today and am stunned. I’d just been thinking of Ray and was about to call and thank him for the warm working environment he provided us. I hope you’re doing ok.

  17. I so appreciate your comment, Jeff. Nice thoughts.

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