Ray Staples - The Room Doctor
From near death experiences to choosing carpets and colours
A story by Rosemary Phillips taken from the book "Sliced Bread", published in 1999.
- time well spent with Ray Staples
JULY 16, 2012 - Ray Staples, The Room Doctor, and dear friend went Home today, peacefully, in Toronto, Ontario. Ray never feared death (see below about her Near Death Experience) just the process. Today she was finally able to go through the tunnel of light - and stay. I, along with her family, friends and associates, will miss her dearly, yet I know that she lives on in our memories, and in that world beyond the tunnel of light. I treasure the time spent with her, and will always remember her wit and wisdom. Enjoy this short journey with Ray; this story is but a mere taste of the personality and life of a truly amazing woman who certainly has made a difference in the lives of many.
|Ray Staples at home - photo by Janet Bailey for Style at Home magazine article March 2004.
INTRO Spring 2012: I've known Ray Staples now for over 40 years; I admire and love her dearly and feel honoured to call her 'friend'. As eccentric artists we understand each other explicitly (of course she may have something to say about that), and we always have delightful phone conversations (I live on the other side of the country). For many years those conversations were like 'kick ass' as Mama Ray would give me 'what for' and 'sound advice' on many things. That's what I've always enjoyed about Ray, she doesn't skirt around the issue, she gives it to you straight.
On one particular occasion, at the funeral of a close friend of ours in Toronto, I was introduced to Ray's new bookkeeper and said to her, "I consider Ray a mentor." Mama Ray stepped in and replied quite matter of factly, "Don't ever call me that kid (yes, that's what she called me for many years), I don't want to be responsible for the end product!"
At 92 Ray has had her challenges, particularly with the loss of her husband Ev. Through it all Ray still has many stories to tell. And when giving her humble opinion on a subject recently stated, "Humble opinion?" and laughed out loud. I hope you enjoy the following; it is but an introduction to a grand lady.
If you don't care who gets the credit, you can accomplish miracles," said Ray Staples. "My mother used to say that to me and I'm so glad that she did."
Ray was a mover and shaker, and a frequent visitor to the offices of the Interior Designers
of Ontario on Colbourne Street in Toronto (that was 1971 - IDO eventually became ARIDO). I often
assisted Olga Collins, the office manager, with typing, mailings
and general office duties. When Ray walked into the office the room
was instantly filled with vibrant electricity and colour. Our attention
was caught by her artistic charisma, enhanced by her flowing cape,
shockingly bright red hair, and outrageous Robin Hood hat that featured
a long feather swirling up towards the ceiling. When she spoke her
words matched her outrageously eccentric appearance. Direct, bold,
and completely honest, her opinions would leave listeners bristling
or fading in shock.
"If you can say firmly what you believe to be the truth, how
can you offend anyone?" would be her response to my questioning.
I often wondered if it was her appearance and being in her early
fifties that permitted her to be so downright honest about things.
"As a designer people are paying you for your opinion and it
had better be the truth. If you're not telling the truth you're
not doing your job."
"Outside/Inside" TV Show for CBC
In 1972 we both started working for "Outside/Inside", a CBC Television
show about design for everything from cities to tea pots, even dogs. It aired on Sunday mornings in 1972-3. Ray was co-host with Alex Trebek (before he moved on to California and Jeopardy fame), Shirley Franklin was producer, Chris Paton as director, and Dodi Robb was executive producer. I was the researcher who also typed out the scripts. So, Ray and I spent a great deal of time together
doing research, filming, and having lunch. Lunches with Ray were
a special treat that I looked forward to. They were long, and while
we ate we talked about many things, not just design, but about life, and,
with a bit of philosophy thrown in - the kind that's 'out-of-the-box' thinking, talked about life after life. I loved to sit and listen to
Bright colours in brown paper shopping bags
During an initial visit with a client in Forest Hill, north of
Toronto, Ray was invited into the living room and sat down while
the client discussed her requirements. "I want everything in
beiges and browns, and I want a home that all my neighbours will
Ray looked at this woman closely, observed her bright jewel-coloured
clothes adorned with beautiful accessories, and took note of her
jewellery-bedecked arm that was draped dramatically over the end
of the sofa. Ray then carefully scanned the room with her designer's
eye. On her second visit she arrived with a few brown-paper shopping
bags full of samples, not display boards full of colour swatches
and illustrations like we were taught in design school. Ray spread
samples of fabric across the sofa and over chairs producing an excellent
example of a very neutral scheme of beiges and browns. The client
purred in raptures of oohs and aahs as she touched the fabrics and
delighted in their simplicity.
Ray grabbed the samples and as she briskly shoved them back into
the shopping bags said, "Well Honey, that ain't what you're
gonna get. This is what you'll be having." She reached into
another brown-paper shopping bag and pulled out samples of wonderfully
bright, brilliant and happy colours.
The client stood overwhelmed, excited and in ecstasy. "How
did you know?" she cried out.
"Easy," was Ray's response. "I just had to look at
you and your wardrobe."
A near death experience (NDE)
One day we went to try out a new restaurant that served salads
in clear plant pots. It was a bright cheery restaurant with lots
of light and flora, a totally uplifting atmosphere. The menu was
simple and delicious. We sat and ate slowly, enjoyed the conversation,
and drank wine followed by lots of coffee. It was a particularly
long lunch and discussion went into an entirely new direction as
Ray confided in me her near death experience:
"I had gone to visit the dentist for a minor extraction and
was put under gas anaesthetic. While I was unconscious I had the
sensation of floating above myself and of moving towards a beautiful
light accompanied by a feeling of wonderful warmth and love around
me. I was getting closer and closer towards that light then suddenly
I was drawn backwards into a darkness. I returned to consciousness
in the dentist's chair and found paramedics pounding my chest. The
minute I came around I knew I had been moved into a different room.
It's a decorator's ploy. I had scanned the place and knew that the
drapes were of a different material. My eyes had been trained to
do that automatically. The dentist kept insisting that I hadn't
been moved, maybe because it was against the law to move someone
while they were unconscious, and they were not going to admit that
I had died, that they had lost me and had to revive me.
"It took me at least two weeks to get over the incident. I
was angry at the dentist for bringing me back from that wonderful
sense of peace and happiness, and that place of knowing the answers
to life's mysteries. Since then my feeling about death has been
that it is simply a transition. I have no fear of death, but I do
know that we are afraid of the process of death, of the actual dying,
and of being a burden on others in this life as we die."
We continued talking about death and dying, and the continuation
of life, and as we talked the waiters began to clear tables and
set them for the evening meal, all the while clattering cutlery
and dishes around us.
"Do you suppose they're trying to tell us something Ray?"
"Yes, I think we ought to get moving on," was her reply.
We walked back to Ray's car in the parking lot, a designer's car
full of samples of fabrics, flooring and wallpapers. We both still
had work to do, so Ray dropped me off at the CBC offices on Church
Street and then went on her way while I headed for my desk to type
up the scripts for the next show.
A carpet the client won't like - at first
Friendship with Ray has lasted for many years. While visiting
Toronto in 1987, I met Ray for lunch and we picked up conversation
as though there had been no passage of time between then and the
previous lunch of years earlier. I then followed her around as she
went in search of items for a new client. We stopped at The Bay,
on the corner of Yonge and Bloor streets, and looked through huge
racks of gorgeous area rugs. Ray picked one, paid for it, and ordered
it to be delivered that afternoon.
"She's not going to like it," Ray chuckled. "She
won't like it one bit, but tomorrow night she has company coming
over for dinner. She'll phone me the next morning and tell me that
she loves it and wants to keep it."
Two days later I phoned Ray to ask about the results of the rug
delivery. "Yes," Ray confirmed, "I got a call from
that client first thing this morning insisting that the rug has
to stay. Her guests just loved it, and now, so does she."
The final touch - a yellow vase
That same year I made another very quick trip to Toronto from
Vancouver and Ray offered to drive me back to the airport. On the
way we made a delivery of a huge vase to a client's home. I carried
a mirrored pedestal while Ray carried the vase. We entered an incredibly
elaborate condominium Ray had been working on in which she was joining
together the furnishings and accessories belonging to separate households
of two former clients who had come together and married. As I entered
the living room I noticed a distinct flavour of his taste on one
side of the room and on the other was hers with a blending of the
two in the middle. Ray placed the vase on the pedestal right smack
in the middle of it all and as if by magic the room came together
in a song of harmony. "It's like the final brush stroke on
the canvas that makes all the difference," was Ray's explanation.
We then proceeded on to the airport where we sat huddled for several hours over coffee and conversation. Her mother had recently gone Home and she was missing her - missing that special someone who she loved and was inspired by all her life.
Regular appearances on CityLine, with CITY TV
"You know, it's funny getting to be a celebrity when you're
an old lady," Ray mentioned in a discussion a couple of years ago. "As
I was getting off the plane on my trip to the Arctic a few years
ago, a journey I had always wanted to take, people turned and said,
'There's Ray Staples!'"
Ray's smiling face was seen regularly across Canada and the Arctic
on CITY TV's Thursday edition of CityLine where along with host
Marilyn Denis and other designers Ray gave tips and answers to
questions on decorating the home. The comment that Ray often heard
from people on the street when they stopped her was, "We really
enjoy your show, and we love your honesty."
(Coincidentally the one CityLine show I have a tape of, recorded the one day I was home in the afternoon to see it, was of a tour of the apartment that Ray and I had visited that day years earlier with the yellow vase and mirrored pedestal. Isn't life just amazing?)
And here's a special piece of Ray's honest advice - "Don't just do one wall - do them all!
POSTSCRIPT: I'm gonna miss Mama Ray, but I'm sure she'll still be around giving advice, only now she doesn't need a phone... she has a direct line. On my last visit with Ray and Ev, three years ago, they sat side by side as they had done for years. The chairs and lamps had changed as had other items, but not the coffee table covered in books and magazines, the comfy couch and all the art on the walls. It was all so wonderfully familiar. Ray handed me a little box and inside it was a beautiful ornamental cracked egg. "I'm giving these to those people who are special in my life, and this one is for you." I was choked. Then she handed me a bag with an outfit in it. "I saw it and thought of you," she commented. I pulled it out and looked at it - a cream coloured pant-suit with beautiful bright-coloured floral embroidery on the side of the leg and sleeve. It was definitely not something I would have ever chosen myself. "It's for you to wear while you are performing for children. And you should get them hemmed by a seamstress," she advised, knowing how I do things cheaply and cheerfully. This spring, for Earth Day 2012, I wore it in honour of Mama Ray as I performed with the children of Okanagan Falls Elementary School singing a new song I wrote called "Earth Day All Year Long". There's a simple video on YouTube. It's rough, a bit shakey, taken by a young student, and I forgot the words but you can hear all the children singing along - and you can see the ornate pants. Forgive me Ray, I hemmed them myself.
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