My Rick Ouston Obituary - I Have Not Found Another
Wednesday, September 02, 2020
|Abraham Rogatnick's Pancho|
Vancouver is a city either with a little memory or with a poor
memory. We quickly forget those who have served us well.
It was Bill Tieleman’s posting on Facebook on Tuesday
in how I found out that Vancouver Sun Reporter Rick Ouston had died. I called up
John Mackie (he will probably inevitably turn off the lights at the newspaper
if Malcolm Parry does not beat him to the punch). Mackie did not call me back.
I have looked everywhere for some sort of announcement but I have not found
I wrote this blog (below) about Ouston some years ago. You can skip
my preamble and go to the link of a remarkable essay that Ouston wrote
defending a clinically assisted suicide.
Rick Ouston's Personal Take On Choice Of Death
Friday, August 22, 2014
August 22, 2014 11:15
Writing to deadline
Yes, it’s good to see
Mac (Malcolm Parry)
Nobody is an expert on
dying except perhaps those who administer to the dying or soldiers in battle
whose companions die. The rest of us by definition must be amateurs.
In Spanish we have the
expression “donde el rey va solo” or that place where the king goes and is
alone. This is a polite 19th century Spanish euphemism for saying
that someone is in the bathroom.
Not too long ago while
driving on a back alley near Quebec
and First Avenue I watched a seagull thrash on the
ground in what must have been its last moments. For a long time we talked about
that place the elephants go to die and sometimes we asked ourselves where it
was sea gulls died, at sea or on land? I felt melancholic
watching the bird and well knowing that dying is something that is supremely
lonely and shared with nobody in spite of Hollywood bed-bound death scenes.
Five years ago I went
to visit a dying friend, architect Abraham Rogatnick. We had discussed death
many times but this time I had brought with me my copy of the stories of
Ambrose Bierce. I told Rogatnick I was going to read him Parker Adderson Philosopher. The story relates how a captured Union spy is not afraid of death
knowing he will die in the morning. When the Confederate officer changes the
execution to that moment and not in the morning the spy suddenly is afraid.
I asked Rogatnick if
he were to have a gun pointed to his temple would he be afraid of dying. We
both agreed that there was not way of knowing until it happened.
A few days later
Rogatnick died in his sleep. He had decided, a year before, not to proceed with
the extended therapy to treat his prostate cancer. He sold or gave away his
stuff and donated money to his favourite art organizations. To me he gave me a
Leica IIIF and a Mexican papier-mâché skeleton. His words to me were, “I am
going to die in a year so you can have my skeleton.”
Paradoxically today I
was hit by a wave of melancholia and delight upon seeing the byline of Rick
Ouston in the Vancouver
Years ago, in the mid
80s Malcolm Parry as editor of Vancouver Magazine, had an open-door policy in
his office. Actors, politicians, thugs, prostitutes, writers, doctors,
architects, poets, crazy Estonians, illustrators, etc were quickly ushered in
and Parry always had an ear for good stories. He had a pulse for our city. The
magazine, Vancouver Magazine was relevant. In many ways so were our two city
newspapers. Every once in a while Parry would hire someone close to the
Vancouver Sun or working there to write a report on the status of our city’s
One frequent writer of
those essays was Rick Ouston. I never spoke much to him. But I remember that he
had a look through his eyeglasses that seemed to penetrate into my soul. He was
quiet-spoken. His essays were good. Had they not Parry would not have hired him
Years after when I
visited the Vancouver
Sun newsroom I would run into Ouston. I remember one time when I was there to
see Editor-in-Chief John Cruickshank. I met up with Ouston at the door (they had
to buzz it to get in). Ouston looked haggard and serious. In those days I used
to say to some of my friends that if you put Ouston into a room with my friend
journalist Mark Budgen and illustrator/designer Ian Bateson that in short
order, these three men would do themselves in. I thought it was interesting to
figure out who would have been first.
With all the changes
in the Vancouver
Sun, I stopped seeing Ouston’s byline. I called him one day and he told me he
was in charge of something called or similar to ombudsman of on line media.
Perhaps that was not exactly the term but it was vague. It seemed that Ouston
was in some sort of limbo and I was saddened to hear this.
Years back when a
couple of writers had been nominated for writing awards by the Western Magazine
Award foundation there was a scandal that few new about. These two writers had
written stories in which they had interviewed people who had not been
interviewed and quoted quotes that had never been uttered. The publications in
question (to be fair they had published the letters of protest) had then been
(amazing!) submitted as entries to the Western Magazine Awards. Rick Ouston and
Adrian du Plessis worked in the background in a subtle kind of blackmail, “You
give these two guys a prize and we will come forward.” The writers did not win
anything and the possible journalistic scandal was avoided. I was in awe of the
two men who had sound ethical standards which I know now are not really part of
the mix in the era of citizen journalism.
Today’s Ouston essay Choice of Death is a Personal Thing is in the heels of the Gillian Bennett
suicide of a few days past. Ouston defends that suicide instigated by Bennett’s
awareness of the encroachment of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact Ouston defends
our personal choice of death when circumstances push against staying alive.
I have long maintained
that if ever diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, I will take my own
life. My reasoning is personal and purely selfish: What’s the point in staying
alive if I can’t think? I am beholden to no one, no children of my own, no
needy parents, no debts.
Later in the essay he
describes his bungled suicide attempt a year ago.
I wish Ouston well and
I congratulate him for his courage in writing this timely essay. I also
congratulate his Editor-in-Chief for allowing the essay to run.
It was pleasant to see
Ouston’s byline in spite of the circumstances.