Writer, reader, provocateur, dear fellow. Born Nov. 2, 1943, in Toronto, died Oct. 29, 2012, in Toronto of cancer, aged 68.
By way of China and Saudi Arabia, with stints as a journalist, taxi driver and English teacher, Ross “defected” from his home in Toronto’s East York borough to the city’s Beaches neighbourhood with his beloved wife Pamela in 1997. He quickly made an impression.
Soon, his front porch on Courcelette Road became both community centre and stage, where friends and neighbours assembled to talk with him about all matters, silly and profound.
His arena extended to the sidewalk, indeed, the entire block. He often conscripted passers-by into a conversation, or to listen while he shared his thoughts.
His fame extended to the neighbourhood at large. Beach merchants and residents knew him by name, and scores paid their respects at his funeral.
On his daily rounds, Ross was recognized by his good humour and unique fashion sense – shorts, boots, a belt and suspenders, sometimes accessorized with a hat. He habitually carried a black cloth bag, the contents of which remain a mystery.
Cheerfully inept at technology and home maintenance, Ross thought nothing of phoning to schedule a time to help him plug in a power bar or shift a chest of drawers. On the occasion that he borrowed a tool – a mallet – it was employed as a prop in a play.
Ross had a boundless gift for friendship. Once you were adopted, you were part of his constellation forever. He was open to everyone and passionately interested in people. The sheer number and diversity of his friends was striking – they were of different ages, backgrounds and all walks of life from millionaires to the impecunious.
The strongest bonds grew out of his great love of the written word. He was forever asking people what they were reading, and shared his love of literature with everyone he met.
His extraordinary devotion to Shakespeare moved him to found and lead the Shakespeare Readers, who continue to meet at the local library.
Ross had the curiosity of a writer, a trade he plied diligently early each morning. He was also playful and had a real flair for drama, which he showcased in local performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Julius Caesar. Whether writing or speaking, he was witty and self-deprecating; his vocabulary was astounding.
Ross believed in his friends, and appreciated their various gifts and foibles. He liked to give his friends nicknames, making them characters in his life story. No nickname was adequate to capture him. Ross was simply Ross.
He was his own vintage and lived his life to the brim. A lover of the classics, he became a classic in his own right. Like with a good book, the ending of his story came too soon. Courcelette Road and the Beach will never be the same without the sound of his voice and laughter.
Susan Kohler is a friend of Ross.