Whether it was the ponies or politics, Ray Kerrison was, as one former colleague described him Monday, the “quintessential New York columnist.”
Kerrison, who wrote for The Post from 1976 to 2013 as both a news columnist and a horse racing columnist, covering 32 Kentucky Derbys and countless other Triple Crown races, died Sunday after a brief illness. He was 92 years old.
“Ray was smart, kind, dryly witty and as committed to his craft as any journalist I’ve ever known,” said Bob McManus, The Post’s retired editorial page editor. “He was a man of unshakable principle, which was obvious in his writing, but also a fellow who respected his readers’ intelligence. His goal was to persuade, not to lecture, and while his work could be controversial, it always was honest. And he was a friend.”
A friend to all, it seems.
“One of the nicest people I ever met in my life,” said Ed Fountaine, a former Post horse racing writer. “Nobody could say a bad word about him. Working with him was one of the pleasures of my career there. A real pro. At 82 years old, he was out at the track at 6 a.m. In the rain.”
Raymond William Kerrison was born March 2, 1930 in Cobdogla, near Renmark in South Australia’s Riverland district. He got his start in journalism in his homeland and joined News Limited in 1963 in its New York bureau. Ray left there to edit the National Star, Rupert Murdoch’s first U.S. publication, in the early 70s, then moved to The Post in 1976 to cover horse racing.
“Even in his retirement, he was so amazed by his journey,” said his son Damien. “He was born and raised in the Australian bush. So to come out of there and become so successful in the New York market was a wonderful accomplishment. I know he was very much admired by his colleagues. They all have a soft spot for him.”
“All I can tell you is Ray Kerrison was just a wonderful human being,” said Greg Gallo, a former Post sports editor, who began working with Kerrison in 1973. “He was a terrific journalist, columnist, a tenacious reporter who went after stories full tilt. But he was so gracious in the way he did his business.
“I used to refer to him as the Fred Astaire of thoroughbred racing because he was the best. He was the classiest guy who ever worked that beat. No one was better as a journalist. … We really have lost a special person here.”
“Ray Kerrison was one of a group of remarkable Australian journalists including Steve Dunleavy, Neal Travis, Peter Brennan, Ian Rae and John Canning who descended on New York City in the 1970s and left an indelible mark on the newspaper industry with their skill and flair,” said former Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan. ”Unlike his mates, Ray lived a less boisterous life but was deeply respected for his principle, integrity and warmth. I will miss him.
“One of the nicest people you could find, unusual for the newspaper business,” said Eric Fettmann, who edited his news columns beginning in 1994. “He was persuasive without being strident or dogmatic. And he was a joy to edit — not that his column needed much editing. He was a simple yet elegant writer.”
Kerrison reported on many of the major news events of the day, including Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, the first moon landing in 1969 and the tragedy at the Munich Olympics in 1972. And in 1977, Kerrison uncovered a horse racing scandal in which one horse raced under the name of another at Belmont Park. For this reporting, Kerrison was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
“You want to know the most amazing thing about my father?” said Patrick, his youngest child. “In 92 years, he never cursed. Not once. There were seven of us, and a wife of 59 years and we gave him plenty of reasons to.”
A wake will be held Tuesday from 5-9 p.m. at Blackley Funeral Home, 809 Broad Ave., Ridgefield, N.J. The funeral Mass is Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Church of St. Matthew, 555 Prospect Ave., Ridgefield.
In addition to sons Damien and Patrick, Kerrison is survived by daughters Catherine, Loretta, Louise, and Francesca, and son Gregory, 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Monica, a daughter, Maria, and a son, John.
“I remember sitting in the press box with him at Saratoga,” Patrick said. “One of the few times I was allowed to do that. And he said, ‘OK, Lovey — he and my mom called all us kids Lovey — time for daddy to work.
“And I just remember sitting there and watching him, a cigarette in his hand, typing away, looking at the racing form and thinking ‘That’s my dad. He is so damn cool.’ ’’