Pardon me for departing from my usual exploration of Saskatchewan politics, but I would like to write about a couple rural farm boys that left us late last month.
They say the land makes us who we are. This is true, but sometimes it’s people like this that make the land.
The first rural boy is someone who will be familiar to many of you — my long-time friend and Leader-Post columnist colleague Ron Petrie who passed away Feb. 19 at the all-too-young age of 52 years. A long battle with cancer we thought and prayed Ron had won finally took its toll. Ron leaves behind his wife Joan, triplets Stuart, Spencer and Hailey and youngest son Andrew and countless readers who will miss his extraordinary writing talents displayed in his humour column.
However, long before Ron became a great columnist, husband, father, hockey dad and friend to so many other colleagues that he worked with at the Leader-Post for more than 30 years, Ron was a rural Saskatchewan farm boy. In many ways, that was all Ron really was. And as a rural Manitoba farm boy myself, this might have been what I appreciated most about him.
During our 30 years together at the newspaper, we were two of only a handful of farm boys who now toiled with notepads and keyboards. As such, we shared plenty of stories about small-town schooling, the local curling rink, dugout hockey, fishing, pitching bails, combining, cultivating, riding the school bus, and a thousand other things to which the city kids couldn’t always relate.
There were also a thousand things to argue about — most of which revolved around football. Ron, of course, was a diehard ‘Rider fan who wore green long before it was quite so fashionable to do so. Coming from rural Manitoba, I, of course, was a diehard Blue Bomber fan and still am. (Hey, I don’t question your religion or try and convert you.)
Our football arguments were epic and I would give anything to have just one more with him. Whatever differences over football we had, we really had a lot more in common. Maybe it had something to do with the way rural farm boys are raised to work hard, to make our own fun and to not give up on our dreams.
You see, long before I met Ron 30 years ago, another rural farm boy taught me those values. He was my dad, John Mandryk, who coincidentally died the day of Ron’s funeral.
Passing on age 96 years, Dad was a different era of rural farm boy — one that had to work even harder and whose own youth faced the ravages of the Great Depression and service in the Second World War. Through it all, he and mom managed to raise his six kids on a small mixed farming operation — all of which went on have professional careers and families of their own.
Getting a post-secondary education meant everything to my dad. That his children and most of his grandchildren (a few with doctorates) were able to achieve that was dad’s proudest accomplishment.
Ron was as thankful for what his own dad, Jim Petrie — another sown rural farm boy that passed on a few years ago — had given him. I remember a great talk with Ron years ago about how small our contributions through journalism were compared with what our Dads offered by growing wheat to feed a world.
Like mine, Ron’s dad had taught him well.
We lost two great rural farm boys last month. But I think the values they taught us will live on in their own kids and grandkids.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.