Ramsay, John

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                                                Miramichiers Honour John Ramsay
                                                     By Jo Anne Nimchuk

Miramichiers who gathered for John Ramsay Night on Wednesday agreed John Ramsay was indeed a man worthy of such a public tribute. Bill Turney, director of the CNIB in New Brunswick, wrote in his praise, "John is truly a great person, the epitome of good citizenship." Turney was unable to be present. "Ramsay is", wrote Turney, "a shining example, an inspiration to the blind community. His many talents, his unselfishness and patience have resulted in that he is loved by all he touched".

William Sweezey, of the Miramichi Community Concert Association, agreed with Turney, "John's patience, understanding, concern for his fellow man as well as his talent, have touched the lives of hundreds of students." His legacy will live on for generations," said Sweezey. "He has given his talents unselfishly, shared them liberally with those around him." In gratitude for the support of Ramsay in the Miramichi Com¬munity Concert Association, Sweezey presented Ramsay with this season's membership to the community concerts.

Former student Lois McKinnon likened a talent such as John Ramsay's to a natural resource - a resource which takes endurance patience and a lot of teaching to develop. "I feel honoured to speak on behalf of his students, present and past. I am honoured to honestly say I was a student of John Ramsay. A great big sincere thank you - or to sum it up, How Great Thou Art!"

                                                      Doing it for students

In response to this praise, Ramsay said, "I never got rich teaching music, but I have been highly honoured through my students. I agreed to this concert because I was doing it for my students. They did all the work!" Ramsay offered some advice to those present, especially his students. “Join with the builders, and not the wreckers in life, he said. If you have nothing to say, say nothing. For if you open your mouth then the world will know that you had nothing to say. Have faith in yourself and the ever present guiding hand of Almighty God," was his final piece of advice. .

The evening was accentuated with other comments of praise from emcee Mike Coster, Rev. Phil Williston committee chairman and Noreen Drillen principal of Lower Derby Elementary. Students of Ramsays presented a concert. Ramsay led the Lower Derby Rhythm Band in "Turkey in the Hay (Straw?)." This band was the last band he taught. Then to the delight of all, Ramsay played a few of his favorite musical pieces. The evening of tribute drew to a close with an informal reception in the cafeteria.

Some of Ramsay's students who performed in the concert are: Janet Cameron, Julie Campbell, Derek and Laura MacKinnon, David Mann, Angela Mills, Shelly Tozer and Ann Williston.

                                                  Ramsay Leads a Very Busy Life

For 30 years, John Ramsay has taught music on the Miramichi. That in itself really isn't remarkable, but the point that Ramsay was born blind and has accomplished what he has, is.

Ramsay was born in 1915. He spent 11 years in Halifax, attending the Halifax School for the Blind (now known as Sir Frederick Fraser.) At that school, and through the teachers there, he was introduced to music. His love developed from that point. "I had some of the best teachers while I was in Halifax. They were extremely good, dedicated, competent," said Ramsay. Two teachers, the late Hollis Lindsay and J. Williston, were two that he especially remembered for helping him. "Those teachers, back then, were never paid well. They never went hungry. They never went on strike either," he said.

For over 20 years he taught in the Lower Derby Elementary School, and for awhile at Millerton High School. In 1952, he began giving music lessons. Some of his more notable students are: Eileen Harris, who now lives in the Halifax area; Wayne Hubbard, now in Alberta; Cathy Arsenault, Lois McKinnon; and Colleen Dunn who has recently been accepted at Mount Allison University in the music program.

Several of his students this summer attended a summer music camp in Charlottetown. This year, Ramsay teaches 54 students privately. He also runs the Mount Allison Examination Centre here on the Miramichi. Piano tuning is still a specialty.

In his spare time, Ramsay operates his ham radio and enjoys a title of "Ham". “I hold one of the highest classifications as a ham operator, the advanced class," said Ramsay. "I have worked hard for it. I learned like every other normal person."

"If we blind people want respect, we have to give, not take from the community," he said. Ramsay is grateful to the CNIB for one thing in particular. That's his music. Braille music is very ex¬pensive. The CNIB provides all his music in braille.

"When I leave, if the world is a little better place to live, I will be satisfied," said Ramsay.

Source: Miramichi Leader – September 16, 1983


                                                       JOHN RAMSAY
                                                   Fought to Write Exam
                                                    By Cathy Carnahan

John Ramsay is one of two blind ham radio operators in Northumberland County – and one of about 65 in the Maritimes. But the 73-year-old Bushville man is different than most other white caners – as the blind hams are commonly called.

“Blind Hams have a simplified procedure to becoming a ham, but I don’t use it. I wouldn’t,” Ramsay said in an interview. “Mind you, I had to fight to take the exam given to sighted persons. I said I have as much right as anyone else and I accept the challenge.”

They let him try and sure enough John Ramsay was as fully qualified to become a ham operator as a sight person. “A ham radio operator is a person who uses radio as a hobby,” Ramsay said. He is licensed by the (federal) department of communications after an examination in electronics, operating procedures, international regulations with regard to communications and maintenance of equipment. “There is also a lot of unwritten law of ethics of things they do and don’t do,” Ramsay said. For instance, he has talked to some famous people, but because they’re not registered hams he can’t say who. Of course, if the people they talk to are registered hams, there’s no problem.

“Among those people I have talked to were Senator Barry Goldwater – who was an avid ham – and also one of President Roosevelt’s sons,” Ramsay said. That was a long time ago, back in the early ‘50s.” It was about the same time he became interested in ham radios, he said. “I was in it in the ‘40s and early ‘50s, but I got busy with too many other things.”

Ramsay is a well-known music teacher and piano tuner. He also does chair caning. “You could say I’ve been a ham radio operator since ’76,” he said. “In the ‘70s I bought a CB set, but a week of that was enough for me.” There is no comparing it to the ham radio, as far as he is concerned, Ramsay said.

We take part in all community endeavours such as the Emergency Measures Organization. We supply communication. That’s our job,” he said. “Some places in the north where there are no telephone lines the hams supply communications for families here. In many instances the hams are the only way of communication.”

When asked why people are called hams or ham radio operators, Ramsay smiled. “Some claim one of the first hams was Hiram A. Maxim. I believe his name was Hiram,” he said. Maxim was known for developing the silencer on the revolver, he added. Some say the word ham was taken from his initials. “More than likely it came from an English word meaning amateur,” Ramsay said.

It’s interesting the places you talk to,” he said. The white-haired elderly man then went into a room and brought out a box. In the box are cards from people all around the world – over 100 countries and every American state.

Ramsay also enjoys talking to other ham radio operators nearby. Friday morning, despite a storm and poor reception, he reached Clifford Connors in Upper Blackville – the only other blind ham operator in the county. When the conversation was completed Ramsay put down the mouthpiece and said, “I’d like to see a course like that in the community college – teaching people to become ham radio operators. Because it’s a very good hobby and we feel we do a lot of good.”

                                    It took Ramsay some time to get started as a teacher

This is white cane week, but it’s not a fund-raising week, says 73-year-old blind music teacher John Ramsay. “It’s an awareness week,” he said in an interview at his home in Bushville. “It’s mainly to promote understanding between the blind and sighted so the sighted understand the blind better, our aims and objectives.” The Canadian Council of the Blind and Canadian Council for the Blind co-sponsor the week. But it’s because of blind people like Ramsay there is such a week.

Born in Newcastle about 73 years ago he has been blind since infancy. He was educated in Halifax and that’s where his music career began. “I started in Grade 1 after Christmas. I studied 10 and a half years. There was no Grade 12 then.” Ramsay said.

He remembered his childhood years like yesterday. “I’m a music teacher, but don’t think the children give any thought to me being blind now,” he said.

Ramsay is well known for his musical talents. He has been teaching piano for nearly 40 years. Getting started in the business was the toughest part. “You see when I was a young fellow and came home and tried to get students people just laughed at me. They said, ’How can a blind person teach a sighted child?’” But there was a priest – Father Joe MacKinnon – who was interested in starting a rhythm band and Ramsay volunteered to teach. That was 1953. “And after that we went into a musical festival and by golly we won,” Ramsay said laughing. He never had any problem getting students to teach after that.

“Oh, I’ve enjoyed life. Made some contribution – small, but I like to think I’ve done some good,” he said. “My dad said if he could know the world would be a little better because he was here, he’d be happy. I feel the same way. Another good thing to remember is to join with the builders, not the destroyers,” he added.

Source: Miramichi Leader - February 10, 1989


                                                          PIANO MAN
                                    Eileen Butler shares her awe of John Ramsay in new book
                                                    By Denise Berthelotte

Eileen Butler got more than piano lessons from John Ramsey. She got a book. Butler, now a piano teacher herself, wrote a biography on Ramsey, a blind piano teacher.

The Life of John Ramsey, Miramichi's Music Man was published recently. Butler and Ramsey spent Feb. 24 and 25 at Creative Design Services for the official launching of the book. "I signed the books and he did the talking. We were a perfect match," Butler said. The book is available at most local stores.

Butler started out teaching herself the piano and then pursued her abili¬ties through pro¬fessional lessons until she could learn no more. "My piano teacher said she couldn't take me any fur¬ther, but strongly recommended I see John." That was seven years ago when Butler was a grade five piano player. After spending six years in tutoring with Ramsey, she is now a grade 10. Ironically, Butler's passion for music is what lead her to a talent for writing. My favourite subject was English. It was the one subject I could be sure of getting a high mark in,” she said.

She insisted on taping all her piano lessons to improve her homework. Little did she know those tapes would also include rec¬ollections of Ramsey's past. "He was constantly telling the most fascinating stories. He inspired me to write the book." Butler's ultimate goal in writing the book is for other people to come to know the man she admires so. Prior to writing the tribute to Ramsey Butler, had never considered the possibility of writing a book. "It's something you always think you are going to do but nine times out of ten you don’t.”

It took Butler about a year and a half to transcribe her recordings and rewrite Ramsay’s collection of stories. “I had to make sure it sounded like a story and not just a bunch of facts.” Butler also took all the photographs included in the book.

                                           Ramsay hooked on piano since hearing first note

John Ramsey was hooked on pianos from the first time he heard one. "When I heard it I came running to the sound. I studied piano for 11 years after,” Ramsay said. Ramsay’s first exposure to a piano came when he was nineteen years old and attending the Sir Frederick Fraser school for the blind in Halifax.

Ramsey was born in Bushville. He was blinded by whooping cough when he was just an infant, but nothing stood in the way of his hear¬ing. "The only sound I had ever heard before was the violin," he said, explaining he had lived in a secluded area where musical instruments were few.

Ramsey returned to the Miramichi when he was 20 and brought his musical talent with him. He offered his help to Father Joe McKenna (sic) when he was looking to start a children's rhythm band in Chatham Head. "He just didn't have the money to start it so I volun¬teered myself," he said. It was that band that started his career as a music teacher. "Our class won in the Miramichi Music Festival in 1953," he said.

Ramsey is a talented piano player, teacher and tuner and has made his living from all three skills. Ramsey will celebrate his 82nd birthday in May. He still spends sometime teaching piano lessons.

Source: Miramichi Leader – March 11, 1997 (Note: Fr. Joe McKenna should read Fr. Joe McKinnon)

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