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[cdn-nucl-l] Ray Silver
From the Toronto Star, a eulogy to Ray Silver
Apr. 19, 01:00 EDT
Proud fly boy couldn't write a better ending
IT DID MY heart good to hear that when Ray Silver died on the weekend,
felled by a stroke at 83, he was downtown, on his way to a publisher to
deliver an outline of the latest book he was working on.
Ray never stopped being a writer, a teller of tales, any more than he
stopped being a fly boy.
He was a reporter when World War II broke out but had no intention of
missing ``the biggest story of my life.'' He enlisted and began flying in
1941 with Bomber Command squadrons.
So, unlike most newsmen I ever met, when Ray told war stories they were real
ones, with bombs and Stalags and Lugers to his head. And like most men of
his generation, his life was defined by the experience.
``It lay in our place and time,'' Ray wrote in his book Last of the
Gladiators. ``We could not avoid it.''
He survived a crash into the English hillside that killed most of his crew,
survived being shot down over Holland, survived three years in PoW camps. He
knew he was lucky, the owner of a charmed life. And he never forgot it.
He seemed to regard every day as gravy. I can't remember ever seeing him
when he wasn't happy - equal parts wonder and irreverence, always curious,
``Too many guys,'' he once told me, ``live life so frightened, they end up
tippy-toeing backwards over a cliff.''
After the war, he became an advertising man, then in the 1970s a political
flack, later, a writer on the nuclear industry, an author and doting
grandfather who showered his kin with words and stories.
His daughter Jane recalled yesterday at his memorial how as a 9-year-old in
Montreal, Ray had written a letter to the president of a company with which
he was dissatisfied. Her father never lacked for guts, she said. Or doubted
the persuasive power of the written word.
He kept scrupulous files, she said. His writings filled two rooms in his
house, floor to ceiling. Anyone who knew him usually found themselves on the
receiving end over the years of an avalanche of cards, notes, verse, musings
Fifteen years ago, Ray and his wife Lynne went back to Britain and stomped
the hillsides until they found remnants of the Whitley in which he crashed.
They also went back to Holland and found, a half century on, the Dutch woman
who had risked her life and those of her three small children by giving him
civilian clothes after he was shot down there.
That woman ``taught me what courage really was,'' Ray said.
Maybe I admired Ray because of his attitude, his gratitude, his curiosity,
his stories. Maybe it was because he was of that generation that makes my
own, with its virtual living and vicarious pursuits, seem so puny.
Ray's, as the writer Christopher Hitchens once said, lived through the
Depression, war, understood and accepted delayed gratification and still had
``enough confidence to unbutton and reproduce.''
To see some of Ray's fellow ``kriegies'' - from kriegsgefengeners, prisoners
of war - at his memorial was to marvel at how any man in an RAF blazer, no
matter how frail or failing, somehow seems 6 feet tall and ramrod straight.
To hear them reminisce about their years ``in the bag'' - as they called the
PoW camps - you would think it had been no more than a lark.
Soon enough, though, there will be none left to listen to. As his old pal
Dick Huleatt said, Ray has just gone on ahead to ``get a good bunk by the
window'' before the rest of the old fly boys join him.
``He had a wonderful life,'' said his wife Lynne.
``He was a helluva guy,'' said Jane, his daughter.
That he did. That he was.
And who could ask for a better epitaph.
Jim Coyle's column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.