Memoir relays message of perseverance

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Tony Fry’s new memoir A Pile of Words is a collection of stories about family, career, religion, literacy and community.

At the centre of his story is the promise of youth, whether about his own trajectory and the people who helped him along the way, the potential he sees in the youth he has met through the community and his professional life as a camp director, as well as his own family members. Fry writes that it’s all about friendship. His ability to connect with people has been a super power of sorts, that has brought him much success in life.

“My mom once said to me, ‘Tony you were born with a rose up your ass.’ I loved that woman and she was right,” writes Fry.

He grew up in Nova Scotia, the youngest of 10 siblings, and was raised by a single mother, abandoned by a once wealthy husband whose support dwindled over time.

Fry writes that at the age of five or six, “I even knew, by then, that we did not have much money. I also knew, without a doubt, that with her I was safe.”

That upbringing taught him the value of family, and instilled in him a strong work ethic that brought him success as he climbed up through the ranks of the YMCA to become the director of Canada’s largest camp before launching his own HR consulting company.

His secret, he writes, is that he did it all without being able to read.

It wasn’t until he was in his sixties that Fry taught himself to read, and now in his eighties, has written his memoir.

In 2018, at the age of 81, Fry was searching for something to do.

“I was bored to death,” he said, so he began looking into adult continuing education classes in Toronto. He signed up for a class on memoir-writing, knowing that he would have to read out loud, something he had never done in his life.

He said he felt he had nothing to lose. “I was used to failing,” he quipped. Even though school had not been a pleasant experience for him (except for two years at university where he thrived in every way except academically, having not written any of his exams) he went into the classroom setting with confidence. Fry recalls some bumps along the road but in the end the course set him on a path to completing his memoir.

He said he set out to put down on paper a message, something for his grandchildren and future great-grandchildren, about some of the issues he had to face in his life and how to get around them.

“I don’t think there’s any hill you can’t climb, you just have to find a way to get over it,” said Fry.

The Frys – Tony and Catherine with daughters Jay and Steph in tow – bought a house in Creemore in 1996, where they live when not in Toronto.

There is a chapter in the book about one of Fry’s biggest contributions to Creemore, the founding of RAY’s Place.

Using his gift for forging meaningful relationships, Fry reached out to people in the community and got financial backing to start a youth employment program called Rent-a-Youth. The program matched young people with people offering odd jobs. It eventually evolved into a scholarship and bursary program, and youth centre, and eventually became the RAYS program that exists today, rebranded as Resources for Area Youth Success.

To this day, Fry said, when he is out in the community, someone will come up to him and say, ‘hello Ray.’ He laughs at that saying, no matter how many times he identifies himself as Tony, someone will inevitably address him as Ray.

The book is available at The Creemore Echo’s Newsstand, located at 3 Caroline St. W., for $24.

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