As he passed 80, Ray Robinson had an idea for a new book – the last recorded words of prominent people.
He knew how to write books, of course – the Lou Gehrig bio, the Christy Mathewson bio. He was a magazine editor and a freelance writer.
The book came out in 2003, when Ray was 83 – “Famous Last Words: Fond Farewells, Deathbed Diatribes and Exclamations Upon Expiration,” published by Workman Publishing.
It fits in the hand or the pocket. Perfect quick-take reading. Perfect little gift.
This is a blatant plug. Ray would approve.
Alas, Ray Robinson passed on Nov. 1. He would have been 97 on Dec. 4 and was to be honored by a coterie of baseball buffs who meet monthly in the city.
Ray’s last words? I don’t know, but I talked to him the night before. What was on his mind was a perfect guide to this grand old man of New York and Columbia University and publishing.
In our last chat he did not bring up seeing Fidel Castro in Havana or how he met Lou Gehrig as a young New York fan or how he spilt ink on Lefty Grove while asking for an autograph at Yankee Stadium, or his activism with the ALS Association of New York, in homage to Gehrig.
Neither did he tell the great story of how a precocious New York girl named Betty Perske called him a “cheap SOB” or maybe it was “cheap bastard.”
This underscored link will explain the brief meeting of Ray and the future Lauren Bacall.)
Among Ray’s last words to me:
Ray’s passing will leave a huge gap in our lives -- for Jerry, our token ball player, who escorted Ray to the doctor, and Ernestine, who fussed over Ray, and Darrell, one of the originals from 1991 (!), and Lee and Marty and Willie from our group, and Bob and Jeremy, the busy superstars, plus Al and Rosa, who knew Ray and Phyllis forever, and all the other buffs who sat around the table once a month and talked baseball and politics and everything else.
We’ll meet on his birthday, I’m sure, and try to remember some of Ray’s good stories.
11/2/2017 01:38:32 pm
I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Ray along with Jerry Rosenthal a few days before his death. I always enjoyed hearing his stories when I was in his company and laugh now thinking about him hitting my cane a few times with his and saying we could duel like Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks Jr, as we had been talking about them at lunch. A kindhearted man who will be missed.
11/3/2017 08:30:47 pm
Mickey, Jerry was telling me about the lunch.
11/3/2017 09:37:41 pm
11/3/2017 08:12:44 pm
We were blessed to receive from him a version in Portuguese autographed of the book "Famous Last Words, Fond Farewells, Deathbed Diatribes, and Exclamations Upon Expiration”. It was a great gift. I’ll be eternally grateful to you, George, that has sent it to us.
11/3/2017 08:21:34 pm
Dear Altenir: I totally forgot. That was only a couple of months ago. Marianne said they are such a nice gift, can we buy extras from Ray? And he had two English and two Portuguese versions around for whatever reason, and he gave them to me. Wouldn't take a dollar....
11/4/2017 06:27:16 am
Thank you, George.
11/4/2017 08:58:50 am
On Monday, my friend Mickey Dunne and I met Ray at Timmy’s. What a great way to spend a glorious mid-fall afternoon! Mickey, a former boxer and sports historian of sorts, was in all his glory being in Ray’s company and listening to well-worn stories, told in the stentorian tones familiar to those who know this living legend. It was enthralling and entertaining hearing about Ray’s interview with Rocky Marciano the day after he knocked-out Joe Louis to gain the heavyweight championship of the world and his run-in with Jake LaMotta!
11/5/2017 01:27:52 am
11/5/2017 02:40:22 am
Hey, Jerry--Never met Ray only heard about him from George. But if he was all you say he was, that was some guy and I'm glad to at least have had your and George's recollections. Thank you both.
11/5/2017 04:36:29 pm
A wonderful tribute that confirms my belief that it the people who you know, well known or not, that makes life interesting.
11/5/2017 08:00:30 pm
Alan, You would have liked Ray Robinson -- both New Yorkers. He saw Babe Ruth after retirement, near West End Avenue, sometimes.
11/5/2017 08:55:10 pm
I would have loved to have known Ray. It is possible that our paths crossed at some time on the Upper West Side.
11/10/2017 01:20:30 pm
The NYTimes has now published an obituary for Ray Robinson:
11/11/2017 05:21:10 pm
And the NYT ran it in the print edition on Saturday. Nice tribute.
11/25/2017 04:53:19 am
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.