Ray Johnson – Following his dream
Once upon a time, a man by the name of John C. Johnson was born in Job’s Cove. Leaving school early, he became a fisherman. He was a sealer at the Front for 19 springs. He also worked as a jackhammer operator in St. John’s and elsewhere.
Another Job’s Cove resident, Bridget English, was born to John and Mary English. Bridget attended the local school and participated in church activities. She also loved to dance. She was blessed with a kind and sunny disposition.
On Jan. 1, 1942, Bridget and Johnny, as he was better known, exchanged marriage vows.
By the time the Johnsons had been married for eight years, they wanted children of their own. In 1950, they took in two foster children, one of whom was Raymond Douglas Sellars, who was three at the time.
Raymond, or Ray, as he’s better known today, writes: “ We were about to embark on a most incredible journey that would change our lives forever.”
Today, Ray is one-third of the musical comedy triad known as Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, the others being Kevin Blackmore and Wayne Chaulk. Last year, Ray released his autobiography, “And I Owe it All to Bridget and John.” It’s a fastpaced read.
In his introduction, Ray writes: “It’s been a century or more since the following words were spoken by American president Abraham Lincoln: ‘God must have loved the common folks; he made so many of them.’
“I guess the above can be said for my foster parents, Bridget and John, two fine people I loved and respected for all the years I knew them. And so the purpose of this book is to give Newfoundlanders, Labradorians and Canadians an indepth look into the private life and thoughts of my foster parents, and to show how I was influenced by the stories, characters, music, and songs passed on to me so many years ago.”
Ray’s book is highly original, reminiscent of a scrapbook of sorts, in that it is made up of a wide variety of components. Diane Molloy, executive director of Newfoundland and Labrador Foster Families Association, describes it “a beautiful tapestry,” created by the intertwining of “the threads of love, family, music and culture.”
There’s a contribution from Kevin Blackmore, who refers to Ray as “the little feller from Job’s Cove.” He adds: “Ray pretty much defines what is a large part of our musical heritage and in no small way has been responsible for preserving a good chunk of it.”
Wayne Chaulk expresses appreciation to Ray for his dedication to preserving the stories of “those who have remained silent too long.”
“I Owe it All to Bridget and John” contains the lyrics to some of Ray’s songs, including Where Fishermen Used to Be: “I often stroll down to the wharf … It’s there I’d sit and meditate about the men and the sea.”
There are stories written by Ray’s friends and acquaintances, including Above and Beyond (Roger Davis), The Puncheon Tub (Paul Emberley), An Island Boy Lives It Up ( John Lipton) and Gull Rod (Anthony J. O’Leary).
One entire section is devoted to recitations or monologues, including Job’s Cove Rock (Francis Colbert), The Yankee Privateer (Baxter Wareham) and The Lobster Salad ( John [ Joe] English).
There are scores of photographs, sketches and illustrations, all of which add to the portrait Ray has painted in his book.
Another section is devoted to influences on Ray — musical, spiritual and political.
One musical influence is Don Messer (1909-73). Ray actually got a chance to perform with Messer at the Halifax Forum in 1971-72.
One spiritual influence is Pope John XXIII (1881-1963). When Ray was growing up, it was common to see the pope’s picture hanging on the walls of homes in Job’s Cove and elsewhere along the North Shore of Conception Bay.
One political influence is Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965). Ray calls him an “outstanding political figure.”
Ray’s autobiography is holistic. To quote Aristotle in his Metaphysics, “ The whole is different from the sum of its parts.” There is a bit of this and a bit of that. All of it together is bound to garner the enjoyment of a wide swath of readers. There’s enough to go round.
Perhaps the saddest part of Ray’s book is when he tells about leaving home in 1969: “ There were so many tears that they seemed to intertwine with the rain that came down on that fall afternoon.” Bridget, born in 1909, died in 1975; John, born in 1906, died in 1983.
“ When your parents pass on, what do you do to alleviate the pain?” Ray asks rhetorically.
He took the advice they had given him and fol- lowed his dream of becoming an art specialist.
Today, whenever we hear Ray Johnson perform, the rest of us are in his debt.