Ralph Shaw's conservation legacy will live on

Ralph Shaw and Harold
Ralph Shaw and Harold 'Smitty' Smith reminisce about one of their many outdoor adventures.
— image credit: RECORD FILE PHOTO

"Good morning, Mr. Shaw, how are you today, sir?"

That was the greeting offered by one and all at the Comox Valley Record office whenever Ralph Shaw stopped in to drop off his Outdoors column or check that it had arrived intact by email.

Invariably the answer, delivered with a smile, was "Still on the right side of the grass."

Ralph was in The Record office on Jan. 6 for one of his always-welcome visits. On Jan. 7 a call came into The Record office saying Ralph had passed away earlier that morning.

There was shock - this 89-year-old gentleman still hunted and fished with the best of them on a regular basis.

There were tears - the sudden loss of such a vibrant individual is all but incomprehensible to immediately come to terms with.

Then there was quiet - a time to reflect on what a great individual Ralph was in everything he did. And to try to absorb that we would never see him "on the right side of the grass" and brightening our newsroom again.

"He was one hell of a man," said Larry Stefanyk, one of Ralph's many longtime friends whose Island Fisherman magazine Ralph's Outdoors column also appeared in.

Ralph's first Outdoors column in The Record was published Friday Sept. 9, 1994. His last column appeared Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. Remarkably, he never missed a deadline in all that time - a total of some 1,058 columns.

Conservation was always his passion, and in 1984 he received the nation's highest civilian honour, the Order of Canada, for his efforts. His columns touted the important work of groups such as Ducks Unlimited, Nature Trust of B.C., BC Wildlife Federation and closer to home the Courtenay and District Fish & Game Protective Association.

He also had no problem taking politicians at all levels to task when he felt they could be doing a better job.

His columns championed the cause of Maple Lake, and most recently had focused on climate change and its effect on the planet. The topic became a source of good-natured kidding between Ralph and me.

When he pointed to the melting snow on the glacier, I assured him it was just more trees growing. He would smile wisely and shake his head.

Ralph was a big booster of The Record's annual Bullhead Derby, awarding First Fish certificates to happy youngsters at the Comox dock.

Frequently, Ralph wrote heart-warming columns about fishing and hunting trips with members of his family - a four-generation fishing trip with a grandkid or great-grandkid, or a three-generation hunting trip with a daughter.

Another regular in Ralph's columns was his good friend of several decades Harold "Smitty" Smith, who shared many outdoor adventures along with their wives Elaine and Dorie.

Ralph won many awards for his writing but was never one to dwell on his accomplishments. When he discovered he was a finalist for the 2015 Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Award, he laughed and said, "It's nice just to be nominated." And you knew he meant it.

While his conservation legacy will live on forever, he was quick to acknowledge others who contributed to the cause, noting in memorial columns Bert Everston and his "down-to-earth approach to nature" and most recently Maj Birch of MARS, who "had a true understanding of wildlife" before her untimely passing.

Ralph was always full of praise and love for his wife of 65 years, Elaine. Her organic gardening complemented his fishing and hunting to produce mouth-watering meals they were always sharing with friends and neighbours. When we were lucky, he would share fresh prawns with the newsroom staff.

Ralph's inspirational grasp of the cycles of nature always remind me of Henry David Thoreau, an American author, poet and philosopher who immersed himself in nature when he went to live in the woods by Walden Pond (near Concord, Mass.) in the mid-1880s.

In his writings, Thoreau noted: "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."

Ralph knew that to be true, and no matter what side of the grass he is on, his legacy will always be with us.

For that, I say thank you, Mr. Shaw. I neither hunt nor fish, but my world is a better place for having known a gentleman who did so with the greatest respect for all living things.


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