By Alejandro Grattan
Remembering A Christmas Past—and Ray Rigby
For those unfamiliar with Ray’s background, he had served with the British Eighth Army in North Africa during World War II. Later, using his wartime adventures as an anvil, he hammered out a novel called The Hill. His screen-play of the same story starred Sean Connery, and won Ray the British equivalent of an Academy Award.
Over the next decade, he published several successful novels, as well as wrote scripts which starred performers of the caliber of Sophia Loren and George Segal. Ray also wrote stage plays which were produced in several countries, including some behind what used to be called The Iron Curtain.
But the climb to fame was not easy, and had been made more arduous by the brutal circumstances of his childhood. Abandoned early on by his father, Ray was raised by his doting but poverty-stricken mother. He was working fulltime before he’d graduated out of short pants, and was never given much of a formal education. Instead Ray would go on to earn a Ph.D from the University of Hard Knocks. Toward the end of his life he was a dazzling combination of sophistication and street smarts.
Even so, his last few years were extremely difficult. His major credits and peak earning period had long since faded and he was living in Ajijic in what might generously be described as genteel poverty. Yet I always thought that Ray was one of the richest men I had ever met, though not in the way wealth is usually so mundanely measured.
His prosperity was of a different kind, one much more difficult to obtain than through the mere accumulation of money. What Ray had, money can’t buy: a talent for writing that was recognized all over the world, dozens of devoted friends, an unquenchable spirit, and five loving daughters.
Ray’s greatest achievement, however, was the creation of his own personality. He was a world-class wit and a fabulous story-teller, who in his time had tossed down many a pint with the likes of Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. Yet, despite his many professional accomplishments and vastly colorful personal life, he was one of the least self-centered celebrities I have ever met. He always seemed far more interested in the efforts and aspirations of his pals, rather than in his own, He was an expert at repairing the damaged dreams of his friends and his shop was open 24 hours a day.
For those of us fortunate enough to have been his friends, Ray brought a heady brew to our lives. Even bumping into him on the street was often an occasion which called for no less than a glass of champagne. His sparkling personality and devastating wit will long be remembered. Yet what I treasured most about him was his generosity. Ray was always a lavish spender of the two things he had in super-abundance: talent and experience. His insightful literary suggestions were greatly valued by at least a score of the best-known writers here at Lakeside. He had read three of my own manuscripts-in-progress and had taken the time and trouble to write out many pages of notes, brilliant, handwritten suggestions which I will cherish for the rest of my life.
It was fitting that Ray would die on a Christmas Day because he had been a rare gift to so many people. Had I had the chance to inscribe his grave-stone, it would have read:
Here Lies Ray Rigby—a world-class writer and an even greater friend, who is now pitching his latest story idea to the Great Editor up in the Sky.
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