From the Spec:
You might see a tall distinguished-looking man, white at the temples and a pleasant smile, walking away.
There’s something in that face that tells you it has seen things. One — and we’ll get to this in a moment — was an atomic bomb going off.
Buying people time is the kind of thing Ray Morrison does. He keeps change in his pockets and when he’s walking along and sees, behind the parking meter glass, those dire-looking triplets with their little brother colon, 0:00 (no time left), he stuffs coins into the slot.
“My parents were big believers in random acts of kindness,” Ray says of growing up in Surrey, south of London (“we could see London burning at night”) during the Battle of Britain.
“We (Ray and his sister) had it drummed into us. I’d dig out my elderly neighbour’s garden for him. We ran errands for people.”
These days Ray’s kindness takes many forms but publicly he’s best known for his amazing biscotti and other baked goods at the Mark Preece Family House.
He learned to bake and cook, first camping with the Boy Scouts in England, then with the Royal Marines, with whom he did his two years of National Service when the Brits still had conscription.
“In the marines, on manoeuvres you’d have only raw meat, raw potatoes and onion thrown at you. ‘Here’s your dinner.’ So many had not a clue. No sauce pans, only your billy can. But I’d coat the potato in clay, throw it on fire. Baked potato and darned good.”
It helps to have the feel, and Ray’s flush with it, in many spheres. He does biscotti, sweet loaves, butterscotch and coconut cookies, treats with toasted almonds, banana loaves with walnuts, shortbread, old English recipes.
His volunteering with Mark Preece is an outgrowth of what he did with the former Chedoke pain management clinic. There he taught baking, woodworking and plant care. His woodwork is exquisite. Chopping boards and other pieces, often featuring three kinds of woods, with inlays and figures and beautiful cuts.
Ray’s a bit like a lively piece of wood himself, richly grained, textured and weathered by varied experience. When he was in the aforementioned Royal Marines, he marched in parade at King George VI’s funeral.
“Incredible,” he says. “Millions lined the streets.”
And he was detailed to a ship heading for Australia.
“It was a secret mission, all we were told,” Ray remembers. “We were sent up to Glasgow for exercises before. When I stood guard duty, this cute Scots kid came up and said, ‘Hey, mister, do you know where you’re going? Gimme six pence, I’ll tell you.'”
That was half a day’s pay but Ray sensed the kid knew. The boy’s dad, it turned out, was superintendent of docks. “You’re going to Australia on an atomic bomb expedition.” And so he was.
Ray’s vessel carried Britain’s first atomic bomb to be tested in the far Pacific.
He watched it go off. “There was a tremendous crash and bang that kept reverberating and then the cloud, not like you picture it, but every colour under the sun. It looked like we’d gone to hell. Everything was burning inside it.”
He’s never forgotten.
He went on to a successful career in insurance, first Lloyd’s of London, then other firms in Canada and finally on his own. The bulk of his work was on veterinary malpractice.
“We once paid out a million dollars on a cow. She was the world champion producer of butterfat.” He handled claims on dead tigers, racehorses and practically every other animal in creation, representing the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
He got into the horse world — his sonorous British accent made him a natural for announcing equestrian competitions at shows; he had stables and a horse farm in King, Ont., raising Welsh cobs. He started up the Canadian Driving Team.
He moved to Hamilton with wife Sharon after he had a sarcoma on his leg and then a heart attack, about 12 years ago. He wanted to be near hospitals, so Sharon wouldn’t have to stay in hotels in strange cities.
It’s one reason why Mark Preece Family House so appeals to him. It’s a place for family to stay. And it’s got just about the best biscotti in the city.
To view the article in the Spec, visit: Ray Morrison – The great biscotti maker of Mark Preece and his amazing past