Fordie would have grinned and shaken his head over the derby fish flap.
He was a good guy who grew up in a tough place. He worked hard jobs and learned early that life isn’t always fair.
So when the cancer doctors told him to put his affairs in order late in 1994, he knew how to handle adversity.
His full name was Walter Ford. He died in 1995 a month after the derby and this is probably the only time he’ll be memorialized in print.
Fordie loved the Island and the derby, especially the fellowship and “floggin’ the water,” as he put it. Fordie did not care about daily and weekly awards, cash prizes, equipment, boats and trucks. I doubt he ever weighed in a fish in 20 years. He was all about doing the derby. So when the docs told him the jig was up, he put his affairs in order. It was what it was and he never whined about it. But one of his affairs was one more derby and he hung in there to get it.
Many people do not understand the wonder of the derby, which is this: 61 years ago a bunch of Island people created a culture of fellowship and service to others with the derby as the vehicle to provide Island kids with education and experiences, and to use every bit of every fish caught to provide food to Island people. I think none of us who fished the derby with Fordie understood that then. But in 1995, a half dozen good guys who grew up in a tough place, worked hard jobs and knew that life isn’t always fair committed themselves to helping Fordie have a great derby.
I will always be grateful for one night, the last night before we left, the derby over, when Fordie said: “Think I’ll go flog the water.” He was pretty shaky then, so I went with him and saw a miracle. He fished the Gut until dawn, resting now and then, but keeping at it. There were no fish. That wasn’t the point. He was having his derby.
This has been a tough week for derby people, for the young guy who had the bad luck to catch a really big fish that had been yo-yoed by an anonymous commercial fisherman and for his pals who believed they had to choose either Lev or the derby. I feel badly for the derby committee who caught themselves a lose-lose situation. They are 20 good men and women who are in a tough place right now. They work hard and know that life isn’t always fair.
Frankly, I’ve been angry and sad this week to see the Mardi Gras atmosphere at the weigh station deflated, to see the worry and conflict on the faces of derby fishers and volunteers.
I want the derby to be like it was for Fordie.