Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Roi Will Be Missed

I recently heard the sad news that union activist and political cartoonist Roy Carless, a participant in one of the first oral history interviews I ever did, has passed away.

It was an interview I did before I had formally started my social movement history project -- before I even had an inkling I would embark on such a journey, as a matter of fact -- and it was one of the things that inspired me to do so. A friend of mine was involved in putting together a show of left-ish political cartoons in the community gallery of the Art Gallery of Hamilton. He and I had both done a lot of community radio stuff and, at his prompting, we decided to go around and get some of these lefty cartoonists on tape. All of the interviews were interesting, but the one with Roy was by far the best in terms of entertainment value and political interest. I think we talked to him twice, and had a beer with him after one of those. I took that raw material and made a cd from the interviews, complete with cover art and brief liner notes and all that, which was distributed at the show.

Roy -- or Roi as he started to sign his work at one point -- was more than just another political cartoonist. He was proudly working-class and an avid trade unionist. For more than a decade he was the chief steward of one of the most solid locals of one of the most left-leaning unions in Canada at the time, the United Electrical Workers. At the same time as he was drawing cartoons mocking the boss while he worked on the line he was also the best known labour cartoonist in North America. His work appeared regularly in many labour movement publications across the continent. At the time we interviewed him he had stopped drawing because a car accident had damaged his eyes and he couldn't see well enough, and it was obviously a sorrow for him. I'm not sure what changed, but a little later on he started drawing again, and from what I understand kept at it right to the end.

And he was truly a character. Anyone who was lucky enough to hear him tell anecdotes about his encounters with premiers and presidents and the guys on the shop floor is truly blessed.

A little while after the interview and the cd, I was lucky enough to work for awhile with his granddaughter Shannon -- a wonderful person. I've been thinking about her and feeling much sorrow for her loss these last few days.

Here is the article about Roi that was published in today's Hamilton Spectator:

Cartoonist 'Roi' championed underdog: ROY CARLESS 1920 - 2009
by Daniel Nolan, The Hamilton Spectator, January 06, 2009

Roy Carless skewered the high and mighty in his editorial cartoons, blasting them for the way they treated the little guy -- and by most recollections they loved it.

He has letters from three U.S. presidents -- Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter -- and from Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas and Bill Davis thanking him for his cartoons.

And the day he retired after 34 years as an assembler at the Camco appliance plant, his bosses let him know he would be missed. Over the years, he drew many unflattering, shop floor humour cartoons about plant management. The bosses let him know that, rather than throwing them away, they had kept every one.

"He thought that was great," recalled Hamilton Spectator cartoonist Graeme MacKay.

"He loved knowing whether his bosses or politicians got a chuckle out of his work."

Carless, whose cartoons had appeared in The Spectator over the years, died suddenly Friday at his beloved Bold Street home. He was 88. His son Marc said it is believed he died of a heart attack.

The son of a Toronto area village police chief and a housewife, Carless had been drawing since he was a child, but started to sharpen his talent when he came to Hamilton in 1948 to work at the then Westinghouse plant on Longwood Road.

His shop floor cartoons posted around the plant got him into the union paper of the United Electrical Workers. In 1968, he branched into political drawings and that got him into numerous other trade union publications and even a calendar.

By day, he was a factory worker, helping put food on the table for his family and being an active union member. By night, he was a cartoonist, with the trademark signature Roi, drawing for publications in Canada and the United States.

He eventually became a member of the Association of Editorial Cartoonists and his cartoons are now in the National Archives in Ottawa and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

He also published a book of his cartoons and had various local shows of his work.

Carless's son Marc and granddaughter Shannon Morgan both said he was an advocate for the underdog, read five newspapers a day and had a great sense of humour. He drew cartoons right to the end.

"He was somebody I looked up to and respected," said Marc, who works for John Deere in Grimsby. "His ability to express himself through cartoons was always amazing to me."

Morgan was taken in by Carless and his wife Audrey after her mother and their daughter, Cindy, died of leukemia in 1987. Morgan was 11.

"Everything he did was on trying to get a message out," said Morgan.

"He wanted people to start thinking and pay attention to their community and the world around them."

Carless is survived by his wife, son and four other grandchildren. His body has been donated to medical science, as he wished.

A memorial is set for Jan. 17 at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, 51 Stuart St. It will begin at 1 p.m.


Randy said...

Hi Scott - really sad news, Roy was indeed a character, and one of the most entertaining and down to earth people I ever met. He was gracious with his abundant talent for political cartooning.
The Political Cartooning in Hamilton show we organized with OPIRG McMaster helped to reignite Roy as a cartoonist, and then there was no stopping him. He would call me up at work and tell me what he was working on, and I would be crying with laughter before he finished.
I am going to really treasure that CD we worked on, and remember Roy as one of the best.
RIP Roy/Roi

Scott said...

Hi Randy, and thank-you!