Ronald MacLean remembered
Ronald MacLean, known across the country for his CBC radio appearances, passed away last Thursday
One of the two New Brunswick brothers who enthralled Canadians with their radio stories about their rural New Brunswick lifestyle has died.
Ronald MacLean died the day after his 75th birthday at the Dr. Everett Chalmers hospital in Fredericton last Thursday.
Ronald MacLean, often known simply as Ron or Ronnie, is described in his obituary as "unofficially, but commonly referred to as the 'mayor of Whites Cove.' It states, "Ronnie was proud of his community, referring to it as 'the land of milk and honey.'"
For 75 years Ron and his older brother Alvin were inseparable. Both worked on their nearly 200-year-old farm, living in the same house their doctor delivered them in.
"I sit here at night and wonder why he won't come in and watch television," said Alvin MacLean, sitting in his late brothers rocking chair, nestled next to the kitchen wood stove.
"Everything has kind of gone different," said MacLean. "You go in the truck and there's no one on the other side."
Along with his brother Alvin, Ron became a staple on the CBC's Morningside radio program in the 1990s. The two would banter away on air while describing their slice of life: mostly consisting of rural chores on their property in White's Cove on Grand Lake.
Their enthusiastic tutorials on splitting wood, cooking shad, cutting your own Christmas tree, or shoveling cows out of snowbanks delighted listeners as they walked host Peter Gzowski through their days on the farm.
"People all over Canada got quite a kick out of it," said MacLean. "We used to get letters from people in Saskatchewan and Alberta."
In their home province both brothers were perhaps better known for their steadfast dedication to the New Brunswick Liberal Party, and well known for championing former Premier Frank McKenna.
The two were so tied to McKenna that an alternate version of the traditional cabinet photo, taken with each successive government, hangs in the MacLean farmhouse. Alvin MacLean says the photo is identical to the official one, except the two brothers can be seen book ending the ministers in their signature matching red jackets.
McKenna himself spoke at the funeral.
"He was sitting behind me at the time, I didn't know it," said Alvin Maclean. "Actually, what he said at the funeral was you have more access to my office than J.K. Irving did."
A cork-board filled with hundreds of campaign buttons adorns a farmhouse wall, along with photos of the two brothers with a veritable who's-who of notable New Brunswickers.
The brothers radio appearances made a mark on those who originally recorded those segments.
"There are some people who you just think are almost part of the cultural landscape, you feel that they'll always be with us," said Michael Camp, a former CBC producer who documented some of the radio segments with the MacLean brothers on their farm. "But time goes on."
"Ronnie was riotously funny," said Camp, recalling his time spent recording their walkthroughs. "Anything you asked Ronnie to do, he will ham it up a bit, and he gave this wonderful narration."
Camp said he first got the idea to record the two brothers while having them showcase a set of stairs they had reclaimed from a decommissioned lighthouse on Grand Lake. The MacLean brothers used them to replace the stairs leading to their basement.
"There was something magical about Ronnie and Alvin together," said Camp. "And I just thought they were great guys and a lot of fun."
"After their first appearance chopping wood we had other episodes of their lives. Planting strawberries, making bread pudding."
Camp credits Ron's natural and articulate ability to communicate his farm tasks as the reason for the duo's on-air success, as well as being standout members of their rural community.
"It was never a performance, it was never a show," said Camp. "It was his genius as a person. He was a good guy and the reputation that the brothers had was remarkable."
Alvin says their life of mingling with radio stars and politicians slowed down as the two got older, but their farm work never ceased. Until Ron became sick, the two continued to do the farm chores that made them famous; regardless of the weather, or their age.
"I went out today to work," said Alvin MacLean, after parking his tractor from a day of hauling brush. "But if he was here, we'd work together, everywhere I went, he'd help you."
Now Alvin said his workload has increased, jokingly pointing to the four barn cats prowling the family home.
"When we went to the store Ron would always go straight for the cat food first," said Alvin.
Being surrounded in a home filled with memories and photos of their younger days is the hardest to deal with says Alvin MacLean.
He joked he'll need to put a mannequin in the empty seat of his truck.
"I don't imagine it will ever be the same, not likely," said Alvin MacLean.