Ray Kapper will have a birthday tomorrow. No. 78. You wonder how this remarkable guy will spend the special day.
Sitting across from him at lunch the other day, I had to ask myself how he has survived a couple of heart surgeries, a ripped ankle and doubtless more common infirmities to arrive in enthusiastic condition to talk about, among other things, his work with First Tee, the youth development program with an injection of golf.
When I asked him later about this title, he paused on the phone and responded with a trickle of humor: "Godfather ...I like to stay behind the scene." Or something like that.
Ray is an old-school politician who would be the first to admit that he doesn't have a firm grip on the English language. More like a Damon Runyon character. But he's been damned successful with an elegant watch and Cadillac because whatever he tries in life, it's with a full burst of vitality. He has what a lot of politicians don't have: a firm grip on whatever endeavor he's engaged in.
Democrat, city councilman, unsuccessful mayoral candidate (which left a bruise on his soul), Akron service director. The latter title, more than one witness will tell you, added up to him being the best service director the city has ever known..
A lasting memory from my reporting days: I walked into his office at City Hall after a heavy overnight snow storm. He had been up all night and was now on the phone to one of his guys with unmistakable commands.
"I want those streets cleared as quickly as possible," he demanded. "People have to get to work this morning. Got that?"
Don't get me wrong. Ray and I have had our differences, none of them lasting. But I never questioned his commitment to a better city.
The reason for the lunch? A couple of months ago I had met him at a political event. Hadn't seen him for awhile. "We have to go to lunch," he said. '"I'll call you."
You hear that kind of casual promise quite often from a lot of people you never hear from again.
Weeks passed. One evening our phone rang. It was Ray. He said he had not forgotten that we would share lunch. He felt a little guilty about waiting so long to call. But he had made a promise that he didn't want to break. That's Ray.
I, of course, accepted the invitation. Like the old days. Besides, who, after all, would dare turn down a Godfather?
For the 78th time, Ray, Happy Birthday.