As many of you may know, on July 3rd New York City and The Good Beer Seal lost a good friend.
Ray Deter of d.b.a passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a bicycle accident on June 27th.
I won’t pretend to know Ray better than anyone else. I certainly didn’t. In the coming days and weeks, there will doubtless be many remembrances floating around in the virtual world as well as the actual world. Many of them will be about d.b.a and his legacy in the beer community. He will be chronicled as “Ray Deter, owner of d.b.a bars in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Orleans”. This is no small thing, but those of us who knew the pleasure of his company, the benefit of his generosity and the magical consequences of his impishness are struggling to express how much more he was than “….owner of d.b.a. bars…”. In my capacity as producer for Beer Sessions Radio (TM) and administrator for The Good Beer Seal, I watched him work every Tuesday evening and enjoyed almost an entire herd of steaks in his company. I’m no expert on Ray Deter, but I can tell a story about him that you probably won’t find in print anywhere else.
The first time I met Ray was several years ago when The Good Beer Seal first began. Imagine a December afternoon in New York City; chilly, slushy and grey. I was waiting by the bar inside Jimmy’s No. 43 for several bar owners to arrive for a luncheon to discuss what The Good Beer Seal would become. I had begun to develop email relationships with these bar owners, but I had never met them and my primary purpose at the time was to help organize things. As frequently happens in these types of events, everyone arrived at once. Consequently, I did not get proper introductions to anyone and I spent much of the first part of the meeting trying to discern through context clues who was who.
Ray, I remember distinctly. The first thing I saw was his signature black boots coming down the stairs outside the window followed by the bottom of his leather trench coat. His uniform was fairly simple and though it had a few variations (white shirt instead of black, sport coat instead of leather coat, maybe a vest…) you could pretty much depend on Ray’s style sticking to a few key elements. It worked for him. He was extraordinarily tall and gave off an “ex-rocker” vibe complete with dark wavy hair and arms crossed in front of his chest. He struck this pose quite frequently, but it was misleading. Although his posture suggested someone who was closed off, I would soon learn that this was never his attitude or approach.
Everyone began to make their way to the back room to sit down and have lunch. As I surveyed the room and idle chit chat began amongst the group assembled, I knew that I was the odd one out. As the only woman and the only person there who did not own a bar, I knew these men would not know exactly what to make of me. I didn’t even know what to make of me, for that matter. I was seated in the back of the room and was the only person with a notebook and pen. I looked like a court stenographer, a witness to the proceedings and not a participant. No one spoke to me. They really didn’t need to. It was clear from the way I allowed myself to get lost in the group that I wasn’t anyone of consequence.
The meeting began in earnest and I sat taking notes from the back of the room. In my memory, I was even seated in a dark shadow, although I am sure the reality of the situation was less dramatic. Ray was speaking. He had just made some point or other and in the very brief silence that followed his point, he addressed me directly and asked my opinion. For the first time that afternoon, everyone turned to look at me. For whatever reason, Ray had given me the floor. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I have thoughts on just about everything, but these guys… considering the situation, they had absolutely no reason to believe that I could or should be consulted about anything until Ray took it upon himself to find out more. It seems so small, so insignificant a thing to do, but it was really quite remarkable and speaks to his character. What I would come to learn about Ray is that he always assumed that everyone had something to offer. He never demanded that you prove it or anything, he simply trusted that you had something to say that was worth hearing. Then he did something that I find absolutely extraordinary; he valued what you had to offer.
I’ve always been thankful to Ray for that one moment. It was a moment that I would watch him repeat over and over again. It wasn’t something he put on to impress others with his grand gestures toward the “little people”. He was honestly curious about people and was always generous in his attentions. Ray possessed great humility which made him so approachable and he had great charm which made him fantastic dinner company. Ray Deter was the type of person you never tire of meeting. He was gallant and kind, funny and good natured. He told a good story, and if you stuck around long enough you’d catch the same story a few times over, but he was remarkably consistent!
In our conversations over the years, Ray would drop little nuggets of odd information about himself. Phrases like, “When I was in a band…”, “Back when I drove a cab…”, “There was the time I got shot…”, “I used to work in a law firm…”, and my favorite, “I was in (insert name of beer producing region) with (insert name of well-known beer personality) when…” were always a cue for me to sit down and listen. When I’d express my surprise (You got shot??) he’d always reply, “I’m old. When you live this long, you do and see things.”
Two things, Ray. Number one: surprisingly few people see and do things. Number two: you weren’t old enough, Ray.
He was a good person and I’m going to miss him dearly.
To hear some of Ray’s highlights from Beer Sessions Radio (TM) click HERE.