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Valley Lives - Doug (2) Ryan

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 20, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Tough as nails, but never left a soul stranded

by Nathan Vanek

It's hard to imagine this area without Doug Ryan. It'll take a while to get used to not seeing him around, larger than life at the garage or driving by in one of his trucks.

Certainly, like many of us, Doug has always been an integral part of my experience of the place. Having landed in Wakefield in the spring of '98, back in Canada after what felt like a 150 years and completely new to Quebec, my financial and mental stability seemed to hinge upon me finding a job. Noticing a sign in the window of Ryan's Garage, I asked if I might apply for the position. And a couple of minutes later I found myself standing in front of a mountain of a man.

Valley Lives
Doug Ryan -' hard-working, dependable, irascible, opinionated, loud, quiet' - died Jan. 10. He was 66 years old. Photo courtesy Warren Stevenson.

He loomed over me in the doorway, stern-looking with sandy hair, powerful hands and I instantly felt like a 14-year-old again. My cheeks flushed, my palms began to sweat, I was in danger of my lower extremities dissolving.

"Do you speak French?," he barked.

"No, sir," I answered.

"Well, I could get into a lot of trouble hiring someone who doesn't speak French."

I managed to squeak out; "I'm a fast learner, sir." There was a momentary pause that seemed much longer.

"Ok," he barked, "I'll take a chance. Be here Monday morning at ten o'clock and we'll see how it goes." And so it began. Little did I know at the time that French would be the least of my problems. Hell, I often couldn't even understand the English spoken up there. I could write a book about that year. One day I may write a book about that year. There was just so much to learn, so much to figure out. I had great days and terrible days. But, there was always Doug; hard-working, dependable, irascible, opinionated, loud, quiet.

He came early and left late. He closed only for Christmas morning. Doug would read the paper every evening, but always hand me over the crossword puzzle. We'd be Sitting in the office silently for ages and then he'd literally jump up all of a sudden, which inevitably shocked the heck out of me, and dive into working on someone's truck.

Doug did not suffer fools. He could be tough as nails, but he'd never leave anyone stranded on the highway whether they had money to payor not. He must have fired me at least a half-dozen times. He could put the fear of God in anyone and yet he elicited a fierce loyalty from his friends. Right up until very recently, at least ten years after I worked for the man, he liked to say I was the worst gas jockey he ever had. And I loved every time he said it. It's just really hard to imagine this area without Doug Ryan. It's hard to imagine the good ol' boys not gathering in his office on those cold, winter evenings or Doug not ranting on about the government or some issue in the village. The boys may continue to play only country Y105 on the radio. The old Ford sign may continue to hang outside the place. We may still be able to rely on getting help at all odd hours. But, it won't be the same. It's going to take some getting used to.

Nathan Vanek lives in Wakefield and is a former Low Down columnist.


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