A long life's not this short - Keith Roulston editorial
While there are undoubtedly rewards for living a long life, one of the disadvantages is that you outlive most of your contemporaries who knew you. I thought of that as I read last week’s brief account of the life of former Blyth Reeve Mason Bailey who died March 11 at age 95.
Probably few of the people in the area remember the contributions Mason made to the community, but for me, my life would have been different if he hadn’t stepped in at key moments. For one thing, you mightn’t have been reading this newspaper.
Back in 1985 as Sheila Richards and I tried to raise money to launch The Citizen, I visited Mason to see if he would invest in starting a locally-owned newspaper. He owned an empty storefront on Blyth’s main street at the time and immediately offered to exchange a year’s worth of free rent for shares in North Huron Publishing Company. It was the kind of creativity that he displayed several times in my life.
Our paths first crossed in the early 1970s when I was a green journalism school graduate who was the one-person editorial staff of the Clinton News-Record. I began covering meetings of the Huron County Federation of Agriculture (HCFA), generally held in Clinton.
It was a time of great transition for the federation. After the referendum to unite Ontario’s various farm organizations into a General Farm Organization had been lost in the late 1960s, Gordon Hill of Varna became Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) president with the goal to revitalize the OFA to make it more effective. The idea was to sell memberships in the OFA directly instead of people being part of a township federation that was part of a county federation that sent members to the OFA. OFA members in each county would then automatically be part of the county federation.
The idea brought on board a whole new sort of OFA member, willing to go out and sell memberships to their members. One of them was Mason Bailey, who owned a dairy farm on Currie Line just west of Blyth. He beat the country back roads and sold hundreds of memberships that helped make the HCFA one of the most effective organizations in the county.
Since I was the only media person who attended HCFA meetings, the group’s executive decided the News-Record should publish the The Survey, its annual publication for members. Later, when Jill and I bought The Blyth Standard, Mason was HCFA president and switched the rights to publish The Survey to us in Blyth.
In 1975, we proposed to include a monthly newsletter the HCFA sent to members into a new farm newspaper, The Rural Voice. After several different owners, the magazine is now published by North Huron Publishing.
Also that year, Jill and I were living in the little cottage that is now part of the Wonky Frog Studio. With the arrival of a noisy third child, we needed more space. Mason, by now having quit farming and taken up selling real estate, represented the owners of a large farm house that we liked but couldn’t afford. Since the owners wanted to move back to the city and hadn’t had other offers, Mason suggested we swap houses with our house in town covering the down payment. However mortgage companies demanded improvements to the farm house (eavestroughs, etc.) before they’d loan us the rest of the money so Mason offered to take the mortgage on the house, facilitating the deal and making both sides happy. We’re still in the same house (much improved) nearly 50 years later.
Eventually, Mason needed the money he’d loaned us but suggested he was sure that the house would now qualify for a mortgage from the Clinton District Credit Union, where he was a board member.
Mason was a bit of an enigma, since he was a proud Tory but also believed in people coming together in co-operative ways to accomplish things they couldn’t do as individuals. He was a member of the board of the Clinton Public Hospital for several years.
He was elected to village council when Blyth still had one, and was reeve when Mike Harris’s provincial government insisted on municipal amalgamations. He suggested the entire northern half of Huron County should amalgamate into one municipality, but couldn’t sell the idea to other municipalities.
At an age when most people seek to slow down, he bought a farm and planted an apple orchard. In late winter you’d see him with a wind-burned face after pruning trees.
After his health deteriorated, he could still be seen as noon approached using whatever assisted device he needed to help him walk to the Blyth Inn for lunch.
No doubt there were many other accomplishments I’m unaware of. I also realized Mason rubbed some people the wrong way. I suppose that comes with living a long, busy life.