Regina Leader-Post colleague Ron Petrie died recently of cancer at age 52.
We were friendly colleagues, but not friends. However, I will remember him as a real Saskatchewanian who gently and hilariously reflected the province’s quirks, foibles and endearing qualities back to itself.
Born and raised in rural Saskatchewan, educated at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Petrie spent his entire adult life in the newspaper business, the vast majority with the Leader-Post in Regina.
Petrie had travelled the province, was a fanatical supporter of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders football club and even liked curling (a requirement that kept me from full Saskatchewan citizenship). He was an enthusiastic participant in the Jar, a Leader-Post staff table hockey tournament usually conducted in a state of over-refreshment.
Petrie also had a strict ‘no pictures!’ rule during road trips to the exotic town of Plentywood, Montana, located about 200 kilometres south of Regina. If I had to guess, I would say that Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” was his favourite song on the jukebox at the now-gone Midway bar, located halfway between Plentywood and the border.
While he could write great news stories, Petrie will be remembered as a humourist, with 70 of his best columns collected into a book called Running of the Buffalo. He made his readers laugh. “I like Hank from Cracked Axle!” you’d often hear people say about one of his signature characters.
Saskatchewan has no doubt changed since I left in 1996, but back then, virtually everyone would know some version of a real Hank from Cracked Axle.
He worked me into a column once when I came into the newsroom bitching about Campbell’s chicken soup with pasta, which I took to be a yuppified version of chicken noodle soup. He thought he’d struck populist gold with little details such as my rusty truck of the time (“You see, Bill is just folks”).
My sincere condolences to his wife Joan, their four children and other family members.
But it’s also a loss to the province to have a talented writer die who could make people laugh even as they recognized themselves in his stories.
Petrie’s funeral was to be held today in Regina.
I hope Ron’s in a place where he can hear this, hoist a beer, smile and remember some of the good times.
Here’s some coverage:
- Feb. 20, CBCNews.ca Saskatchewan – Leader-Post columnist Ron Petrie dies at 52
- Feb. 21, the Leader-Post – Veteran Leader-Post columnist Ron Petrie dies at 52
- Feb. 23, Prairie Dog – Remembering Ron Petrie
Here’s Petrie’s (@ronsterooni) Twitter bio, which gives one the impression this was not a man who took himself too seriously: “Award-winning* humorist Ron Petrie writes for the Regina Leader-Post since the late 1900s. * Fishing Lake Poker Derby, 1990 (full house, eights over threes).”
This column was read at his funeral: Ron Petrie: I have lots to be thankful for, when I stop and think about it
Rob Vanstone, now the Leader-Post’s sports editor, penned a remniscence about Petrie, remembering how nice Ron had been to him in his student days — and the humour that was present to the end:
A reporter and writer of Ron’s skill, dedication and versatility could have worked at any newspaper, in any department. But he found his niche as the Leader-Post’s resident humorist, and he never lost the amazing touch that endeared him to the readers who routinely turned to Page 3.
Ron’s column appeared as recently as Feb. 11. True to form, he made us laugh. Even at a time when he was unable to eat, he managed to produce the type of chuckles that were appreciated far and wide, from Regina to Moose Jaw to Grenfell to Cracked Axle.
But that was Ron – someone who would go the extra mile. He did that for me, as did Will Chabun, some 28 years ago. The man who became the self-described Third Page Boy was incredibly nice to the clubhouse boy, as it were.
In so doing, Ron Petrie left an imprint that extended beyond the written word.
That act of kindness, like the man himself, will never be forgotten.