Well-known former newspaperman, master storyteller and open-line radio show host Ron Pumphrey died Tuesday at age 87.
One of the first to react on social media was Mark Critch, comedian with CBC’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” whose tweet started with Pumphrey’s famous opening line during his radio host days. “‘Hello, my lovelies!’ The great Ron Pumphrey has died. Raconteur, broadcaster, author. He was the last of that generation of larger-than-life NL media stars. Nearly every house in the province listened to his Open Line. He had three autobiographies and it wasn’t anywhere near enough.”
Pumphrey published a number of books. The three autobiographies were, “Human Beans” in 2007, “Proper Gander” in 2008 and “The Events Leading Up To My Death” in 2010.
Pumphrey once said the original intention for the material gathered for the autobiographical works was to contain it in one volume to be read only by members of his family in the future — memoirs for a family that holds records of its roots and escapades back to the days of Newfoundland's first sealers.
When the books were published, they offered a focus on his work life, making mention of everything from being hired “shy and naive” by The Western Star at age 16, to dealing with the various broadcasters and publications in the St. John's area. He wrote for or worked with many, including the Sunday Herald, CJON-NTV, The Express, The Daily News, The Bell Island Reporter, St. John's Woman magazine, VOCM Open Line and The Telegram.
"You've got life in you and one of these days life is going to go. But where did life come from to start with, and what is it? I'd like to do something to show what a wonderful thing life is and how mysterious it is. We take it for granted.”
— Ron Pumphrey in 2016.
And for as many stories as Humphrey told, there are those told about him.
On Tuesday, Owen Kelly tweeted, “We (my brother Mike and I) were at a banquet on Bell Island and Ron was sitting across from us. Mike asked Ron if he was from Bell Island. Ron's answer was, ‘Well, two places claim me. Bell Island says I am from Harbour Grace, and Harbour Grace says I am from Bell Island.’”
In a 20 Questions feature in The Telegram in 2016, among the questions Pumphrey was asked was, “Is there any other profession you'd like to try?”
“In the beginning, I wanted to be a priest,” Pumphrey answered. “I was going to be a foreign missionary. I was tentatively accepted, but I got married eventually and I ended up an officer in the Salvation Army after I didn't like the politics at city hall (where he once was a St. John’s city councillor).”
In the article, reporter Josh Pennell wrote about his interview with Pumphrey, saying, “Everything with Ron Pumphrey seems to balance between a joke and being serious. He's a humourist and a philosopher. That's not to say he makes light of serious topics or finds anything so meaningful that it's sacrilege to slay it with wit.”
Flanker Press released a statement, saying, “He was, variously and sometimes conjunctively, surface-mines labourer, amateur boxer-wrestler, salesman, journalist, editor, radio talk-show host, television news writer and amateur performer, books editor and publisher, writer and performer of three long-playing recordings (LPs). He founded two bay newspapers and two capital city monthly magazines, was a city councillor, a commercial investigator, a minister, and perhaps the province’s first private public relations man. A lifelong student, he held certificates in beginners’ law, in coastal navigation, in writing, and the motivational sciences. He studied in day schools, night schools, nighttime universities at home, on the mainland, and in the United States. Noted as a hard-working, hard-playing individualist, Ron worked in Jamaica with the Kingston Daily Gleaner (where his sense of humour resulted in his getting a job when none was available), was for a short time a stringer for The New York Times, and, in Toronto, was a full-time employee variously with the Stock Exchange, Dun and Bradstreet, Flash Newsmagazine, and British United Press. His hobbies were educational pursuits, political and other news analyses, philosophy, and watching his weight come and go.”
"Life is interesting. And you know something ... we really do not know what it's all about.”
— Ron Pumphrey in 2010
Pumphrey was also a person fascinated with life and its mysteries.
When speaking to Telegram reporter Ashley Fitzpatrick in 2010 while promoting his book, “The Events Leading Up To My Death,” he said, “Life is interesting. And you know something ... we really do not know what it's all about.”
Later, he told Pennell that if he wrote another book, it would be about life.
“What is life? Do you know what life is? I don't know,” he said. “I'm so enthused by the question and how complex a thing it comes from. You've got life in you and one of these days life is going to go. But where did life come from to start with, and what is it? I'd like to do something to show what a wonderful thing life is and how mysterious it is. We take it for granted.”
His official obituary starts off with Pumphrey’s famous address, “Hello me Lovelies and all the ships at sea.” It ends with the quote, “What a Wonderful World,” the name of the song Pumphrey ended his radio open-line shows with and sometimes could be heard singing along to.
Humphrey is predeceased by his parents, Isaac and Mary (nee Fleming) Pumphrey, siblings Mary Fitzgerald (Desmond), Monica Benoit, and baby Gerald, and the mother of his children, Nellie Pumphrey (nee Dwyer, of Bell Island). Leaving with loving memories, his wife, Marilyn (Duffett); seven children: Heather, Ron Jr. (Pam), Nellie (Martin Oggesen), Stephen (Lucille), John, Shawn, Ian (Lucy); 18 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren; siblings: Sheila (Frank Mooney, deceased), Angela (Ed Houde), Anita (Jack Murphy, deceased) and Gerald (Madonna); and brother-in-law Bill Benoit.
Cremation has taken place. The family will receive visitors at Carnell’s Funeral Home, 329 Freshwater Rd. in St. John’s, on Saturday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Per Ron’s request, in lieu of flowers, “please treat a needy person or family to dinner.”