Our Ray of sunshine has passed this Monday, July 16, 2012 and all who knew her are saddened by the loss of her love, her humor and her direct approach to life. She lived her rich 92 years with vivacity and flair. She was like no other and we are blessed to have shared our lives with her.
Ray was the product of her inimitable parents, Mabel and Arthur Burridge of Lindsay, Ont. Born in Ottawa, her parents relocated to Hamilton with Ray and her younger sister, Jill. Her father distinguished himself at McMaster University as a football coach and was later honored by having the new gymnasium named after him, the Arthur Burridge Gymnasium. Mabel, herself an artist, helped to organize and became the president of the first Women’s Art Association in Hamilton.
As a teenager Ray dreamed of becoming a fine artist. Her parents agreed to send her to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Arthur gave his young small-town daughter a crash course in self defense before she left for the big city. She studied there for three years and those years were a true coming-of-age experience for Ray, who remembered it fondly even in her 90’s – a 17-year-old young woman in a big American city in 1936, meeting other artists, living life… she always remarked that it “was an eye-opening experience.”
Ray returned to Toronto and worked as an illustrator and a muralist. During the war years she also painted aircraft dials with radium paint and eventually landed a safer job as a display artist with the Simpsons department store. Walking into the display department one day she called out to a man in the distance “Hey Steve, let’s go have lunch.” The man turned around and answered “Okay, but I’m not Steve”. They went to lunch and so she met the love of her life, Everett Staples who worked as a fashion designer at Eaton’s department store – Everett of Eaton’s. She always said he was the most gorgeous man she had ever met and carried a small 1930s studio portrait of Ev in her purse. They were married shortly thereafter, on December 4th, 1948.
Their son Kevan was born in 1950 and they moved to Port Credit, purchasing a small bungalow. Everett began working at CBC in the early years of television, dividing his time between costume designing and dancing in production numbers. At home watching TV, young Kevan would call out to his Mum, “Look, Daddy’s dancing on the light”.
When Kevan began primary school, Ray took courses at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. She returned and decided to call herself “The Room Doctor,” embarking on her fifty year career as an Interior Designer. She bought a Nash Metropolitan and went to client’s houses, charging $25 per room to give her expertise.
Summers were spent at her parent’s home on Sturgeon Lake in Pleasant Point near Lindsay, where Mabel and Arthur eventually established an antique shop called “Century House,” renowned for bringing Canadiana antiques to the forefront of collecting. Also, an idyllic month would be spent alone with Ev at a quiet lake near Parry Sound, in a cozy cabin without electricity or running water. There they enjoyed the peace and beauty of the Canadian north, sunning themselves au naturel on the Canadian Shield that spilled into the water. Hence, this spot was fondly known to them as “Bare Ass Rock.”
In 1965 she joined the Interior Designers of Ontario (IDO) where she later served two terms as President. Ray was a pioneer in the field of interior design and was a founding member of the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO). She became president of ARIDO in 1974, at a time when the Association was challenging legislation that would have forced interior designers to practice only under an architect’s supervision. She quoted on the situation, “Architects unified our profession like nothing else would have.” Ray holds the distinguished and prestigious honor of being an ARIDO Fellow as well as Life Member status with the Association.
On November 30, 2012, Interior Designers of Canada (IDC) and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) will present Ray Staples (now posthumously) with the prestigious 2012 IDC/IIDA Leadership Award of Excellence, an award that recognizes outstanding contributions to the profession of interior design. She was “flattered beyond words” to be recognized by the interior design community with this award. Members of her family will accept the award in Ray’s honor.
During those years Ray made numerous appearances on television, eventually hosting her own design show called “Inside/Outside” with co host Alex Trebek as well as making many memorable appearances on CityLine’s “Home Day” (with Marilyn Denis)as a regular guest designer. She became known as “the lady with the hats”. Her flamboyant appearance and her frank and outspoken opinions on design were trademark characteristics which delighted audiences.
Ray was known not to mince words with clients, often shocking and at the same time, endearing herself to them. When asked by a client what they should do with a couch they inherited, Ray replied “Got a match?”. She went to visit a new client in Rosedale and when she was let in to the vestibule, saw that the walls were covered in orange shag carpet. Ray introduced herself to the client by grabbing an edge and ripping it down, saying “Well, that’s the first thing to go”. They remained fast friends from that point on. Just a few examples of the many stories of Ray’s unique sense of humor and style. She became the trusted confidante and close friend of many people who allowed her to breathe new life into their homes. Her design sense was powerful and always made a statement — with lots of color, pattern and texture, beautiful objects and always with a nod to Mother Nature, a force she revered. Ray would add a signature twist to a room, something unexpected, believing that “rules were made to be broken” and she was fearless in her execution thereof. In her later years, still actively designing in her 70’s and 80’s, she was proudly working for the children and grandchildren of clients, now adults with homes of their own.
Above all Ray loved her work, her family and her husband of 62 years, Everett Staples (predeceased). Ray and Ev lived a creative life together, each supporting the others’ endeavors with great respect for each others’ talents. Their days were filled with lots of humor and joy, sharing the memories they forged together in all manner of adventures. Ray and Ev traveled to Barbados, London, Brighton (visiting her beloved Royal Pavilion), Paris, Amsterdam and across Canada from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. Ray also traveled to Inuvik to visit the Billingsley branch of the family, a cherished trip. Their favorite places to go in Ontario were either Bare Ass Rock near Parry Sound or Bala, where Ev’s sister Marion had a cottage. They found much joy in the natural beauty of these surroundings.
Ray touched us all with her passionate creativity and her great sense of humor. She leaves behind a most wondrous group of loving and talented people, foremost her beloved son Kevan Staples. She and Kevan shared a unique parent-child relationship. Ray bemoaned her lack of mothering skills but always managed to admit that he turned out quite well in spite of what she termed her “benign neglect”. Kevan has nothing but great memories of a childhood spent following his working mother in and out of junk yards, antique markets, fabric and design shops. Ray was very proud of Kevan’s accomplishments in the music industry and often introduced herself as “the mother of Rough Trade”. They had an innate understanding of each other and were a very close pair.
Daughter-in-law Marilyn Kiewiet was welcomed into the family with open arms, immediately supported and encouraged in her creative endeavors, loved and cherished by both Ray and Ev. They both adored their granddaughter Sacha Staples and so enjoyed watching her grow into a young woman with a remarkable list of academic achievements, bragged about to all who would listen.
In the last year of her life, Ray was able to spend some time with her cherished great-granddaughter Sienna, enjoying regular Saturday afternoon lunches together in the dining room at Christie Gardens, Ray proudly showing her off to the residents there. She marveled at the beauty of this new little babe who brought her so much joy, whose photo remained on the coffee table in full view at all times.
Her beloved nieces Elaine and Carrie Loring, the daughters of her younger sister Jill Loring, were a constant source of love, friendship and companionship throughout her life. Their careers and accomplishments were always a source of much pride. Elaine’s husband Sam Bornstein was also a close friend and confidante, the man she called “the only adult in the family,” someone she loved and respected for his intelligence and candor. Sam and Elaine’s children Katie and Max, and Carrie’s son Lee Mosbaugh all loved Ray’s humor and were much loved by her. She looked forward to family events when the three teenagers would perform their music and songs. Ray herself was a pianist, loved Bach and attending performances of Tafelmusik where Carrie sang. She also held a special place in her heart for the entire musical Mosbaugh clan: Mary, Frank and Garth, and they too for her.
Ray and Ev were very fortunate to have had many wonderful neighbors over the years, including Ian and Patricia Rogerson, Garth and Lois Haines, Joe Barr and the fabulous Carol Calder. Carol’s eternal optimism and joyful exuberance forged an important friendship in their lives. We are so grateful for her love and support toward them throughout the years.
A special Thank You to the kind and caring doctors and staff of both Christie Gardens Retirement Community and Toronto Western Hospital.
In memory of Ray, please repaint that beige living room a vibrant, happy color that makes your heart sing, as she made our lives sing.
A “Celebration of Life” event will take place in the fall. Please stay tuned for more information and feel free to leave your thoughts and memories.