Al Rach was my editor when I wrote about arts and entertainment for the Calgary Herald during the 1970s. I covered the nightclub scene and Al tried to match every column with a witty headline. One of his best topped a column I wrote about a group billed as The Platters, who offered a mediocre impersonation of the famed black American vocal group that had exploded onto the pop scene during the mid-1950s with such monster hits as “Only You,” “The Great Pretender” and “Twilight Time.”
When I checked with the Buck Ram organization in Las Vegas, which held the rights to the name, I discovered that this Vancouver-based group playing in Calgary had no permission to call themselves The Platters. The only officially sanctioned Platters group at that time was playing a gig in London, England.
Al wrote the only headline that seemed to apply under the circumstances: “Oh, yes, they’re the Great Pretenders.”
We never heard back from the imitators.
Al was a kind and generous soul. When the Trudeau government introduced wage and price controls to curb inflation in 1975, Al negotiated a promotion for me, to assistant entertainment editor, so that I could earn more money. This was a new position at the paper and when I asked him what my new duties would entail, Al smiled and said, “There are none. Just keep on doing what you’re doing now, writing stories and reviews.”
We worked together in the Herald entertainment department for about four years. After that we went on to do other things at the paper. But we still kept in touch. When I mentioned one day that water was dripping from the ceiling onto our dining room table, he came over after work – without any prompting – and traced the problem to a defective pipe in an upstairs bathroom. He spent the next several hours ripping out the drywall to get at the leaky pipe. It was then just a matter of getting in a plumber to fix the leak and having a drywaller patch up the hole. I’m sure Al saved us several hundred dollars on repair bills by identifying the problem so quickly. He truly had a kind heart.
In January of this year, Al was taken to Foothills Hospital by ambulance after collapsing at home in his living room. A heavy-duty prescription drug he was taking for rheumatoid arthritis had suppressed his immune system, causing scarring of the lungs. That pulmonary fibrosis kept him in the hospital for the next seven months. I visited him once, and wish now that I had visited him more often.
He died yesterday morning at age 72. I will miss him.