Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com
GRAVENHURST — Book signings aren’t a biggy for most authors.
But for Rusty Draper they are.
Not because he’s written an engaging, folksy memoir — a feat itself for a voice whose name and fame remain in Orillia radio — but because “I’m dyslexic.”
Not too shabby for a Gravenhurst guy who flunked out of school.
But he makes no bones about that.
He’s proud he survived and thrived in a life filled with way more ups than downs.
“I’ve had a great life.”
One with on-air antics that took him sky high (before plummeting in a parachute) to the pinnacle of community broadcasting — before smuggling Bibles into Communist countries in Russia, the Far East and Central America.
And one full of love and hope for the future.
“Put the Kettle On Honey, I’m Coming Home …” is the gospel truth about Rusty Draper, his wife Pat, the Drapers, Simpsons, McCullaghs and others in their circle of life.
He says there’s not a day someone doesn’t greet him with “Honey …,” his show’s signature sign-off.
And ask him who his “Honey” is.
It’s a fun, readable, relatable tale about living “a lie.”
Fake it till you make it was his mantra. And he did it well, too well it proved at first.
Digging his way out of that dyslexic ditch began with repeated failures in school — half his grades he had to repeat.
Finally, in grade 10, after two tries (not three) he was out — only to return the next day as a janitor at GHS.
He doesn’t blame his teachers: “They didn’t know about dyslexia back then,” which would be the 1950s and early ’60s.
In fact, he fondly remembers his primary remedial teacher Donelda Cosby and principal Stan Taylor, whose offices he too frequently reluctantly was called into.
Not for their futile attempts at “i before e” and disciplining a strapping young delinquent boy. But as regular radio listeners for their after school congratulatory notes on his post graduation successes.
However, he does to this day have a bone to pick with educators who he claims would publicly post “cruel” grades at the end of each year in the hall for all to see.
“I hated that,” he admits over coffee at Hortons — a more recent haunt — where he was conducing a mini book tour selling and signing copies and bumping into old friends and wishing them “my very best.”
There would be an ‘H’ for honours; ‘P’ for passed; and ‘PP’ for passed provisionally.
PP meant if you didn’t make it to Christmas you were sent back.
Guess which letters followed Draper, who took a radio and TV course while sweeping up messes made by Hs and Ps.
He got more out of that correspondence course than his previous decade staring at a black board trying to read and decipher nouns, pronouns, syllables and silliness like that.
He painstakingly poured over each and every word and letter. Still does. Just not for as long.
A slow start to learning paid off, allowing him to eventually digest how to transform 26 letters of alphabet into the comprehensible characteristics of words and language with meaning.
“I’ve heard people say they read the Bible once a year. I don’t know how they can do that and still reflect on the true meaning.”
So writing his life story was monumental.
He did it for his future generations — the grandchildren of his son Roy and daughter, Jane.
His own roots he knows little of … other than that his dad, Roy, was a hard-working hardware man, deputy fire chief, dime-store cowboy book reader, fiddler and mandolin player.
Or whether Draper Township is named for his family. Probably so.
He knows more about his mother Eileen’s family. They were Simpsons not unlike the cartoon family. They had a farm at the north end of Gravenhurst where years later Rusty built a family home on Simpson Road.
Simpsons are integral to this story.
A pioneering Muskoka family, they were rock solid, hewn out of local granite. But like many given to drink; his grandfather became a “town drunk.”
A demon Draper struggled with before marrying and “coming to Jesus” in his early 30s.
Today, Draper’s disdain for drink is palpable, for he knows “By the grace of God, go I.”
Before that he was a very handsome, fair-haired ’50s guitar-playing teenager with a gift of the gab — and not a whole lot else going for him aside from family.
And a lived dream of going to Nashville.
He tried the army and the police — getting just as far as the written test.
His dad told him he could always get a job as a town ditch digger and have a pension — the latter, not the former, appealing to him.
Ad-libbing was his ticket out his small town. Not far — Huntsville — but it worked like his charm.
At 19, three days after his failed audition as a news reader at CKAR — due to dyslexia — program director George Young gave him a life-changing break with his own show where he could ad lib and entertain.
It worked so well that after a year he went from $40 a week to $150 in Niagara Falls for two more years before CFOR came calling in 1968, first approaching then poaching him.
Thus began a quarter century career in radio that ended in 1989 when a year after “being honoured as the first voice of Muskoka FM 101 (The Moose),” he said “the fun had gone out” of the radio game and he switched career paths.
Including a brief year’s stint at Mundell Funeral Home in Orillia; that led to another funny story there.
Was it that he was growing up and the daily grind of a juggling a life as a circus performer on an aerial radio wire wore thin in conflict with his newfound beliefs?
It had a lot to do with his conversion on Feb. 27, 1977 in Florida — the same day his wife “Missy,” a nurse, came to Christ in nearby Dominican Republic while on a medical missionary trip. Now there’s a story.
Draper says he’s not religious, but more of a ‘What would Jesus do?’ kind of follower.
That path took him not only to read the Bible (slowly), but to spread the gospel, become a Baptist minister and a popular preacher who easily reverts to his engaging radio ways when before a congregation.
But it was his years with Bibles International and WorldServes Ministries as media co-ordinator that defined the next chapter of his life.
And led to trips around the world, including a moving visit with Mother Teresa, a couple of influential Russian generals who helped distribute half a million Bibles, a pachyderm pilgrimage to a remote Vietnam jungle village on the border of Cambodia, witnessing with his son Fidel Castro praise God in Havana … and many more amazing stories.
Like a childhood post card from Archie Moore, the light heavyweight champion of the world; a Bay Street brotherhood with Ian Hunter and Robin MacNab called “Diamondhossnab;” and a late night visit to the Grand Ole Opry that led to an interview the Johnny Cash.
How he changed his name from Ross to Rusty and how he met and knew another country-singing Rusty Draper in Buffalo.
Right up to the pandemic.
One particularly early moving account is about his beloved uncle Stan Simpson, a 27-year-old contractor who lived with the Draper family just after his brother Jeff was born, until his horrific highway death that Draper still marks in time.
He died in a 1958 car crash on Hwy. 11 at Orillia, killing OPP Const. Willis Jacobs.
Draper writes about a number of coincidences with local people involved — which led to a meeting with the highway memorialized officer’s son, Willis Jacobs Jr., 61 years later after some persistent detective work by “Sherlock Draper.”
There’s lots of interesting contextualized asides, digressions, foot-notes — and smiley-faced emojis every other page in this 218-page page-turner.
A fun Rusty romp through a well-lived life, which he said he began writing about two years ago after a ticker trouble scare he now believes he’s been blessed to have been all but cured of.
“It’s gone way beyond what we thought. Pat is going to the mail twice a day to send out copies.”
There are plenty of local names readers will know and remember and new stories about them and their interactions and escapades along the ride with Rusty.
So, sit down, put the kettle on and enjoy the good old radio days when Rusty and CFOR ruled the airwaves, “city slickers” took a lot of ’splaining, kids on the austism spectrum didn’t need Ritalin, and to book-learning was more than reading, writing and ’rithmatic.
You’ll hear the unmistakable dulcet tones of Rusty talking to you ‘Over the Back Fence.’
For copy, email Rusty at email@example.com.
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