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Saturday, 16 April 2011

He never retreated, he just back-spaced

Peter Ruehl, an American-born Australian newspaper columnist, sadly passed away last week. While there isn’t much connection here with typewriters, I thought Peter was worthy of a tribute. One of his more memorable lines concerned an American friend of his, “Keith”, who used to frequent McGarvey’s Saloon and Oyster Bar in Annapolis, Maryland. Ruehl wrote the story that Keith was drafted for Vietnam but ended up in a typing pool on mainland America. Ruehl often said that Keith “never retreated. He just back-spaced.”
The very same words could be used to describe Peter's column writing.
Ruehl wrote his satirical column for Australian publications for more than 24 years. His main outlet was The Australian Financial Review (which, incidentally, last week published as a centrespread The New York Times feature on typewriters).
Of Australia’s former prime minster John Howard, Ruehl wrote, "John Howard is so straight-laced he makes Al Gore look like Keith Richards on a pub-crawl in Bangkok". Of Sarah Palin he said she had been “sounding like a Miss America contestant who's been asked about nuclear fission. Even conservative commentators were questioning whether she could walk and chew moose meat … And [Joe] Biden? I've always liked him, even if, when you'd ask him for the time, he'd tell you how to make a clock.”
Ruehl was born in New York City in 1947. His father, Vincent, was an FBI agent and his mother Mercedes a schoolteacher. According to his obituary, Peter often talked about his father having trifocal spectacles: one part for distance, one for reading and one for shooting. Peter's sister is the actor Mercedes Ruehl, who in 1991 won the Academy Award for best supporting actress and a Golden Globe for her performance in The Fisher King.
Peter was raised in Washington and educated by the Jesuits at Gonzaga College. He attended the University of Maryland and then trained as a journalist at the Annapolis Evening Capital. Ruehl moved on to The Sun in Baltimore. He was a keen sailor and covered the 1983 America's Cup, won by Australia II. It was there that he met Australian journalist Jennifer Hewitt, who was the US correspondent for The Sydney Morning
Herald. They married in 1984 and two years later he moved to her home town of Perth.
His obituary says Ruehl often spoke of having a stiff gin or listening to the Grateful Dead at volume late at night with a solid scotch. He loved blues and rock and enjoyed a drink. He was a self-deprecating and humble man. “My approach has always been: you're smart, I'm dumb and let's take it from there,” he wrote in one of his columns.

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