Residents across the Saanich Peninsula and beyond are mourning the death of Jim Ramsay, whom many knew as the Piano Man for his many volunteer performances at Saanich Peninsula Hospital and other facilities.
Born March 30, 1932 in Scotland, Ramsay, a North Saanich resident since 1990, had emigrated to Canada in the early 1950s to Canada to join the Royal Bank of Canada, where he worked until retirement in 1988. He died on Jan. 20 of natural causes.
Ramsay played piano for the late mother of Kathleen McMullin, while she was at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. “My mother always looked forward to his visits, as did the other residents,” said McMullin. “He lifted their spirits with the lively songs of their youth, which many of them sang along to as he played.” Ramsay also played at other facilities including Sidney’s SHOAL Centre for Seniors.
“At one point, he was playing three or four times a week at various facilities on the Peninsula,” said Linda Michaluk, Ramsay’s daughter. While people thanked her dad after playing, he said he thought he got more out of playing than the people he was playing for, she said.
“He really enjoyed making people happy and understood the value and importance of music for people,” said Michaluk. “Often people, who were not really able to put together a lot of memories day-to-day would just come alive when they heard from their youth or meant something for them. And dad would watch for that kind of thing and try to play those songs.”
Ramsay’s death has left a hole, said Lisa Davidson, a rehab assistant in long-term care at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. “The residents miss him,” she said. “We miss him. He was just a very nice gentleman.”
Davidson said Ramsay had been playing at the unit for years, coming twice a month. “When he came, there were probably 60 people. The dining room would be full. We would have to move all the tables and the chairs for the wheelchairs to come in. He was always a favourite.”
Davidson said audiences loved Ramsay. “They looked forward to him. He was super nice. People would request songs and he would know them,” she said.
In fact, audiences did not necessarily have to know the titles of songs for Ramsay to play. “If you didn’t know the song, if you hummed a few bars, he would pretty much catch on to it and know it,” said Davidson. “Nine times out of 10, he would know and play it.”
Michaluk said her dad did not have a favourite song. “Music was his favourite song,” she said, adding that he had received absolutely no training. “He was a natural musician. He had had occasion to play with several people in the jazz field, Roy Reynolds for one. He even had occasion through his time at the bank to meet Oscar Peterson and enjoyed some home-style playing with Oscar Peterson. When he came to Calgary, he would stay at my dad.”
He was such a favourite of McMullin’s mother that she invited him to play at her mother’s memorial in 2016. “(He) played much of the music of her youth and he was a person my mother so enjoyed in her last years,” said McMullin, who wants the public to remember Ramsay as someone who always wanted to help others.
“There are people in our community who give of themselves freely and provide others with a valuable service or with some level of personal joy,” said McMullin. “I feel these people should be acknowledged and remembered. Jim Ramsey was one of those people.”
Comments like McMullin’s and Davidson’s abound in the comments sections on Ramsay’s online obituary, with friends, neighbours and family sharing memories.
Shona Fallon, who identifies herself as a cousin, remembers playing the ukulele with him while he played the piano during the Second World War. “We had to wear gas masks sometimes,” her comment reads. “He played by ear and was so gifted then and until he died. He was my favourite cousin and I will miss our phone conversations. Will hoist a wee dram Jim when I play your CD.”
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