Ralph Waite is being remembered as a gentle man who learned how much he touched people while he was in Petrolia.
Waite, who was 85, died suddenly over the weekend. He has a long acting resume but is best known and loved as John “Pa” Walton from TV show The Waltons.
Waite came to the Victoria Playhouse in 2012 at the urging of Michael Learned who played Olivia opposite him in The Waltons, according to artistic director David Rogers. “She just made one call and he came.” The pair starred in Love Letters together.
Rogers, who grew up watching Waite in The Waltons admits to being a bit star-struck when first meeting him. “Here is this icon in front of you. I grew up with The Waltons. To some of us he was our extended mother and father. He was older, but it was the same voice, the same eyes – he had those beautiful blue eyes and close up you would see the sparkle in his eyes. There was Pa Walton in front of us but he certainly was his own person. I got to know Ralph Waite and became to realize he was a great actor.”
Rogers says it was a pleasure to watch Learned and Waite together. “It was just astounding the chemistry they had together. The moment they got back together…they’d teased about it too, they were like an old married couple – they would fight like an old married couple and we saw them fight and we saw them make up.”
And like Pa Walton, Waite had a stubborn side. “We make our cast members stand out side and greet audience,” says Rogers. “Some actors aren’t so keen on it…Ralph said ‘sorry, I don’t really want to do this; do I have to?’”
Rogers realized Waite want to greet the audience for fear of it becoming an autograph session. “It just becomes about celebrity and they want to have my autograph,” Waite told Rogers. “I said to him, ‘If you can think that it is really more about them that might help. It’s not that we’re trying to exploit you.’”
Waite met a number of audiences but still didn’t like it, says Rogers who understood completely how daunting the task could be. “I said to him, ‘If you do it I will go and stand with you every time, cause I don’t like it either.’ So I stood with him every time. We became kindred that way we joked about it.”
And Rogers watched night after night as people came and poured out their love for Waite. “He didn’t realize how much he affected people because he’d shied away from that. This actually gave him a chance to talk to people; I saw people with tears in their eyes and say you were my father ….other said ‘I just wanted to say you helped me through my life.’”
Rogers will remember Waite for “what a great soul he was, he was an old soul, he was a gentle man and he never realized his fame.” Until the summer he came to Petrolia and met the people who loved him.
“He eventually said thank you for that…he said ‘That was one of the best things I’ve ever done.’”