Sunday, 3 February 2008

Life With Ted

Ted Welch, a former Toronto Sun city hall columnist, died two weeks ago today in Victoria, B.C. Marj Welch, aka The Weasel, Ted's wife and best friend for 34 years, writes about Life With Ted:

"I have enjoyed and appreciated the memories of Ted from his many friends and colleagues. The stories tell a lot about the wonderful, talented man who anchored my life since I was 21 years old.

I met Ted in 1973 in Owen Sound when we were reporters at the Sun Times. He travelled light in those days - he had a suitcase, a 12-inch TV and a broken guitar. He lived in hotels and ate in restaurants. He moved almost every week so if he was late for work, we could never track him down.

He owned one suit in his life - his Dad bought it for Ted’s graduation from St. Clair College, but neglected to pay for it. When a sheriff visited the Sun Times newsroom years later to repossess it, Ted pointed out that there wasn’t a lot left to return so he paid for it.

I may have helped to ground Ted, but he gave me so much more. He taught me to laugh at myself and to stand up for my views. As anyone who spent any time with Ted knows, he loved to rail about everything - from politics to the Toronto Maple Leafs to the local cable service. He had strong opinions, but this wasn’t always necessary - often he just wanted a spirited debate.

And he wasn’t beyond taking liberties to make a point. At a memorable Welch family Christmas dinner in Essex, a heated argument arose about rutabaga farming in B.C. (I have no idea of the point or origin of the discussion, but it’s fair to say this might be a hint about why Ted developed into such a unique character). Ted watched from the sidelines, and then weighed in with choice points that suggested he had nailed the topic, knew all the answers and should not be challenged. The combatants listened, agreed, and shut up. Ted later took me aside and asked me what the heck a rutabaga was.

I was always intrigued by the fact that while Ted was honest to a fault, he wasn’t beyond little lies that were really not necessary. One December, he called me from the Toronto Press Club to announce he had cleaned up in the annual turkey roll - winning two Cornish hens and a bottle of wine. The next morning, I found two Cornish hens in the fridge but there was no wine in sight. “Someone stole it,” Ted explained when he arose. Fast forward one year and it was time for the turkey roll again: “I should go and see if I can repeat last year’s success,” says Ted. “And this time, I’ll try not to drop the bottle of wine.”

Ted inherited a family trait of taking pains to avoid physical work. He agreed that we could buy a house on the condition that I understood his idea of inside work was fluffing up his pillows and outside work meant going to the corner to get a coffee. Mind you, he soon learned there were benefits to having a house, like two bathrooms – with one a designated smoking area.

To understand why that is important, take a look at Ted’s Feb 13, 1984 column about a proposed smoking bylaw: “In the Welch household, my “filthy” habit has led to endless hours of spirited discussion with The Weasel - with time out for mandatory coughing breaks . . . Over the years, we have reached a truce of sorts. Half of our living space is weed-free, including (sob) the bathroom.”

The bathroom was Ted’s library, but then everywhere was Ted’s library. If you ever saw his desk in the Sun’s city hall office, you’ll understand - it was piled deep with papers. At home there were piles of newspapers and books everywhere; all of them well read.

Others have talked about Ted and his love of fishing. Our annual fishing trips were marathon adventures - up at dawn, fish all day in every kind of weather, pause for shore lunch, fish until the sun went down. We were once alone on a remote fly-in lake in northern Ontario and stayed out so late we almost couldn’t find our cabin in the dark.

In the late 1970s, we spent 18 months travelling across the country in a camper van – our plan was to find the best place in Canada to live, but we loved so many spots we wound up coming back to Toronto. Along the way, we caught mackerel in Quebec, cod in Newfoundland, pollack in Nova Scotia, trout in New Brunswick, perch in Alberta, pickerel in the Northwest Territories, lake trout in the Yukon, rock cod in B.C., and a lot more.

We also saw more bears than Ted appreciated, including some grizzlies up close. Ted was terrified of bears. During a fishing trip in northern Ontario, we were once driven to shore by a terrific lightning storm, only to discover fresh bear tracks in the sand. I had to convince Ted it was wiser to stay put than to go back out onto the lake and risk being electrocuted.

They say opposites attract. With Ted and me, this included the fact that he could read and watch TV all day, and I can’t sit still for a minute. When he did not have to report to work, he was sometimes still awake when I was getting up in the morning - and he had no trouble sleeping past noon. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but he would not suffer fools for an instant. He loved a T-shirt I found for him - “I’ll try to be nicer if you try to be smarter.”

I much preferred Ted sober but knew he would likely explode without some kind of release - the visits to the Press Club and poker games achieved this purpose wonderfully. At home, he seldom drank - to Ted’s horror, we’ve had beer go skunky in our fridge.

In Victoria, his release was through our dogs. Maggie, a collie-shepherd cross with an attitude, entertained us for seven years. When she died in 2006, Bobbie a magnificent black lab cross, took over. Just as he was always there for me, Ted could never do enough for Maggie or Bobbie. He took them for long walks in all kinds of weather, and loved to watch them play. He spent hours searching for the perfect squeeze toy or choice chew. They returned the love a million times over, making him laugh and play no matter what he was facing.

Then of course there is my nickname. Ted would tell you he called me The Weasel because I was good at getting my way. It probably surprised him to discover he was willing to give in so easily to someone after fighting the world all of his life. I have always loved the name. Our company is Ermine Communications only because Weasel Communications sounds shifty. But there is a white weasel on our business cards.

I have 30 years of Weasel T-shirts celebrating all occasions - birthdays (Weasel of 42, 44-Carrot Weasel), anniversaries (18-Wheel Weasel, 21-Weasel Salute), new jobs (Road Weasel) or clients (Beetle Weasel), events (Mortgage-Free Weasel), layoffs (Weasel Unplugged), dogs (Hounded Weasel), fishing trips (Wormweasel, Weedzel). I received the original Weasel T-shirt on my 26th birthday; the last one was Bobby Sock and Weasel 55.

A friend in Victoria says Ted’s world was made up of two parts, and the one that really mattered to him was populated by me and by Bobbie. I feel the same way - life with Ted was technicolour; life without him is black and white. I never fully understood why our partnership worked so well, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is we loved each other, and knew it.

When Ted was told he had cancer, we planned that I would care for him at home. Unfortunately, his health crashed too quickly, he became disoriented almost overnight and had to go to the hospice. It was a bumpy ride to the hospital and the paramedic in the back of the ambulance asked if I knew what Ted was trying to say. I did because I had heard it a lot in the last couple of months - they were the last words he spoke to me:

“Slow down, Weasel. The road’s too rough.”

Thank you for sharing your life with Ted, Marj.

In her e-mail, Marj said in writing about life with Ted, she was doing so without her safety net.

I didn't want it to be too long, yet I wanted to be sure to present a true picture of just how marvellous Ted was and what he meant to me. And I am working without my safety net. When faced with a tough assignment, I always turned to Ted for advice and he was always able to help."

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