Fondly remembering the life of a rabble-rouser - and dad

July 10, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

HIS NAME was Ray.

He was the firstborn of Henry and Mary Chapman and made his debut in this world somewhere in West Baltimore on Sept. 29, 1926. He left it quietly on July 5, 2002, at his daughter's home in Washington, D.C., after spending several days at Providence Hospital. One of his sons, on hearing the news, reacted with a bit of sadness and then with the curious observation that the death of this womanizing, hell-raising, incorrigible rake would inspire a lollapalooza of an obit.

Ray Chapman married Inez Johnson in 1944. That union would produce a daughter, Mary Chapman Reed. His memorial service yesterday showed pictures of him standing with Mary and his granddaughter Michelle, of him dressed in his Army uniform and another in which he cut quite a dashing figure. He wore a trench coat, tie, slacks and a hat tilted slyly to the right. It was hard to miss the several rings that adorned his fingers. He was quite the handsome bloke. No wonder he drove women crazy.

Part of his Army years found him in Germany, just after World War II when the Allied forces occupied the country. He was married but not dead, he must have figured, and an affair with a German lass followed. The woman eventually bore twin boys, Chapman's first sons.

He'd become estranged from his wife by the time he returned to the States in the early 1950s. One day a woman named Ruth Floyd Kane - then estranged from her husband, Maurice - saw Chapman walking into his mother's house on Woodyear Street. Ray's mother was Ruth's next-door neighbor. Ray and Ruth caught each other's eye. Their passion would produce one son in 1951, Gregory Phillip Kane, and another, Michael Anthony Kane, three years later. Geography truly is fate.

Thus fate had it that I would lose not one but two dads in one lifetime. The man I always called Daddy was Maurice Kane, my mother's second husband and the father of my older sisters Barbara and Carolyn. Ray Chapman is the man I knew as "Daddy Ray," which was more poetic, and somewhat fitting. It had a ring similar to that of middleweight champ Sugar Ray Robinson, Chapman's favorite fighter. Darned fine taste in pugilists, this Chapman guy had.

He and my mom drifted apart soon after Michael was born. Too much passion and too little compromise in the relationship, I guess. And then there were the women, always the women with this guy. Earlier this year I was at the Convention Center autographing copies of the book of columns The Sun published. A guy who looked, well, kind of familiar walked up and bought a book.

"Sign it to Demetrius Chapman," he asked.

"Chapman?" I asked, noticing something very recognizable about that nose, that mustache, that smile.

"You wouldn't be my Uncle Robert's son would you?" I asked, figuring I'd met a cousin.

"No, I'm Ray's son."

"That would make us ... "

"Yeah, brothers."

So it was after many years I finally met my brother Demetrius. What with him, those two half-German, half African-American guys in Deutschland and the woman I met one day in the parking lot of Security Square Mall, I have no idea how many siblings Ray Chapman left me. But that won't be what I remember most about him.

During his final years he had triple-bypass surgery. Later, part of his left leg had to be amputated because of diabetes. Still later, he was stricken with throat cancer. He fought them all and continued as he always did: partying, rabble-rousing, having fun.

"What's holding him up?" I asked my brother Mike one day. Just days before he died, I told my sister Mary, "He's been whipping death's butt a good three years now." It must have been his constitution.

But with all his ailments, when I was in the hospital myself suffering from a congestive heart failure condition I'd had at least a month, lying in bed, weakened and wondering how I had survived this close brush with the Grim Reaper, in through the door rolled Daddy Ray, pushed in a wheelchair by my Uncle Lawrence. My pop, it turned out, wasn't too sick to come see how one of his sons was doing.

Nearly 50 years earlier, he had gone to Baltimore's Provident Hospital one winter night when my mother delivered me. Odd, I figured, that he should spend some of his final days at Providence Hospital.

The day he died, I pulled into a parking lot in New Jersey to take a train into Manhattan. A guy begged me for bus fare and thanked me profusely when I handed it to him.

His name, he told me, was Ray.

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