Vale – Anthony Raymond

1969 – 2024 | Aged 55 – Gone too soon.

Big Ray had many good friends, long time loyal friend, and fellow Briar and Umpire Gerard Abood, summarises him perfectly below.

On Wednesday, 7 May 2024, we received the news that Anthony had passed away, after a long battle with his health. He was only 55 years old.
For those who knew him, it is inconceivable that it has come to this. Big, burly “Ray” who seemed larger than life in so many ways, apparently was not. He was, it seems, as mortal as the rest of us, which just doesn’t make sense on any level. Not Ray!! Even with his ongoing health battles, where he kept batting away every complication that was thrown his way, there was a sense that he would eventually come out the other side and live a long and happy life. Alas…..
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ray through three separate parts of my life. We worked together, we played cricket together and in the latter years, we shared a love of umpiring.

I first met Ray in 1990, when I first started working in Local Courts. Straight out of High School and into the office at Ryde Local Court for me, whilst Ray was plying his trade at Parramatta Local Court.
We first crossed paths on the cricket field early in 1990, turning out for the mighty Petty Sessions Justice Cricket Club at Moore Park in the Public Service Comp, playing on a Saturday morning. It had been made clear to me in my recruitment interview that it was strongly encouraged to turn out for Petty Sessions Cricket. It wasn’t compulsory, I was told, but it was pointed out to me that there was a position going at Bourke Local Court. Of course, that would be reviewed to a city-metro posting if I needed to get to Moore Park each Saturday morning (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). A slightly different recruitment era, it’s fair to say.

Hence, I agreed to play for Petty Sessions Cricket, in much the same way that I came to understand many Petty Sessions / Local Court cricketers were recruited. Big Ray, as I was introduced to him, was one of them. The tall, strong, gruff opening bowler made himself known to me the first morning I turned out and we became mates straight away. His smile and his friendliness were in complete contrast to his intimidating stature. It was obvious from the outset how good a bloke he was.

What I thought would be a lazy run around on a Saturday morning was anything but, with sheep stations on the line most weeks, as we took on the likes of Tax and State Revenue. Every week, I’d stand at slip trying to warm my hands up as Big Ray came charging in and hurling them down. It was also obvious from the outset how good a bowler he was!!

As it turned out, there was no need for me to warm my hands up at slip. With Ray sending down a new two-piece Platypus on dewy, synthetic pitches, there weren’t too many blokes getting bat on them, as he bowled maiden after maiden. He was a machine and it didn’t take many weeks for me to realise the esteem he was held in, as both a cricketer and a team-mate.

One year in the early 90s, we took a NSW Courts team up to Gold Coast to play the QLD Courts team. What a fantastic trip it was, filled with brilliant memories. I was reminded of a story today of how when Ray was going to his mark for the first ball of the day, somewhere way further back than the QLD Courts guys were used to, the batter turned to us in slips and said “Who does he think he is? Jeff Thomson?” We didn’t say anything in reply, but right on cue, the first ball whizzed past the batter’s nose as he just managed to get his gloves and his face out of the way. He turned to us in slips and sheepishly muttered “Fair enough, then.” It was always beneficial having Ray on our side.

Through the Petty Sessions cricket and then through the work in the Courts, Ray and I became great mates. The following year, we both ended up at Bankstown Court and it was just bloody good fun to work with him. We would plough through the admin side of things by day and then, together with a few other guys and girls, we got the social club up and running at night. Many fun nights were had in the Bankstown Court tea room playing cards. The 500-school ran well into the evenings and became folklore, with people coming from other courts after work to join in. Work was a lot of fun having Ray around.

It was fair to say that in the short time he had worked in Courts, from 1987 to the early 90s, Ray had already established himself, earning “legend” status long before most of us would contemplate it. He was loved by all who worked with him, or even just knew him.

His sense of humour was well known, as was his quickness with the tongue when required. I remember one day at Bankstown when a punter came into the registry and was carrying on with one of our junior staff, as some of them are wont to do. In typical Ray style, he stepped up to the plate and took over the enquiry to give the young guy a break. After trying all of the usual tricks of the trade to calm the situation down, it seemed this punter was determined to keep arguing. When Ray had finally exhausted his patience and was telling him to leave finally, the punter decided to throw in the well-worn, boring insult that came our way as public servants occasionally, when he pointed at Ray and said “You have to do what I say. I pay your wages!!”. Without missing a beat, Ray shot back “Oh, you’re the bloke. Where’s my pay rise?!”, with the customary Ray broad smile. Laughter from the other members of the public and even from the punter himself, who with a big smile, gave Ray a high five and left satisfied. Just one of the many potentially volatile Court situations that Ray was able to defuse in his inimitable style. That was how Ray rolled. He could read people and knew how to handle them.

Ray continued to work in the Courts right up to when he got crook and couldn’t do it any longer. He quickly established himself as an astute operator and great people manager, as he climbed through the ranks. It wasn’t many years before he was acting in senior roles, such as Registrar, Clerk of the Court and, in later years, Regional Courts Coordinator. I wonder sometimes whether those who saw only his knock-about persona through his cricket ever appreciated how good he was at his job. He was outstanding and so well regarded by head office that, when he becoming more and more ill, they kept finding him things to do from home so they could keep him on board. This was before work-from-home became fashionable in the post-covid era, so even there, Ray was a trail-blazer. There weren’t who would have got the consideration from head office that Ray got, which speaks to how good he was at his job and how valuable he was to the department.

The outpouring of emotion from those who worked within the Courts has been overwhelming in the last 24 hours. The acknowledgements, the tributes and the stories have been on an unbelievable level, which speaks to how highly regarded Ray was, as both a co-worker and a mate to so many.
Back to the early 90s and the Petty Sessions cricket, and as each summer came and went, we won some great games of cricket on Moore Park, couple of comps, lots of laughs and some great memories.

In 1993, having seen not only how well he played the game, but the way he went about it, I opened up a conversation with Ray about playing with The Briars. Everything about Ray screamed Briars, I knew I just had to nudge him in the right direction. To be fair, it wasn’t that hard a sell, and by season 1993/94, Ray had enthusiastically donned the maroon and gold. Those who knew him from the early days saw how easily he slipped into the club, the culture and the friendships that differentiate The Briars from other clubs.

He loved the joint. He loved playing the cricket and he was bloody good at it! He also absolutely loved being a Briar. I remember in his first or second season at the club, he commented to me about a player in the opposition; “he’d never be a Briar”. Here was a guy who understood very quickly what being a member of our club meant and cherished it; he just got it.

14 Seasons later, he pulled up stumps. I can honestly say that I don’t know one single person who was around Ray during those years who didn’t love him; Ray the cricketer, Ray the teammate, Ray the clubman, Ray the mate.

Performance-wise, he was impressive. The guy could play!! Over 14 seasons, he took 317 wickets at a tad over 16, including 157 First Grade wickets, including a best of 6/22. He took 35 catches, some weren’t even off his own bowling!! And no mug with the bat, either, coming in normally in the late middle order and giving it a whack when required. He hit 2,203 runs at all-but 23, including 876 in First Grade, including a highest score of 84.

I remember him so proud after putting some chirpy bloke over the old dressing rooms and into the houses; biggest grin I’d ever seen from him.
He played in 4 premiership winning sides, including 3 First Grade premierships and 1 in Second Grade, not surprising knowing how much he brought to the table in every team he played in.

It wasn’t just the numbers, though, it was the way he went about it. Big, bustling action, high release and would hit the seam time and again. It was a classic Ray comment to say to us “well, if I don’t know which way they are seaming, how will the batter know”. Typical self-effacing attitude from a guy who we all knew was much more deliberate about what he was doing with the red Kooka than he ever let on. Humility is such a valuable personal trait.

When Ray hung up the maroon and gold cap in 2007, he stepped away from cricket for a few years, focussing on his young family. However, after a number of discussions and a little bit of encouragement from a few people, in 2013, he decided the time was right to give umpiring a crack.

He went straight into Shires umpiring and, in a surprise to nobody, he took to it like a duck to water. Right from the outset, his decision making was clearly a strength, but so too was his ability to read people, read the game and manage things like a seasoned professional.

His first season umpiring Shires, he impressed to the extent that he earned a spot in the Fourth Grade Final, a remarkable achievement for a rookie umpire. He then went from strength to strength, becoming a regular fixture in First Grade finals over the ensuing years. Indeed, he umpired a total of 7 First Grade Finals, along with 5 Frank Gray Finals; quite the achievement. He also won Shires umpire of the year on 3 separate occasions.

All up, Ray umpired 134 Shires matches, 83 of which were in First Grade. He also was given an invitation to umpire in Premier Cricket on 8 occasions, the first of which was in Second Grade and then the next 7 matches were all First Grade. I know he loved these experiences because he told me so. One of my highlights of my weekend when Ray was standing in a First Grade Premier Cricket match was the phone call on the way home. The enthusiasm with which we would speak those evenings was intoxicating. If anyone ever doubted how lucky we are to be involved in this wonderful game of cricket, they need only speak to Ray and he would set them straight.

I was lucky enough to be appointed to one of the First Grade Premier Cricket matches with Ray at Hurstville Oval, which I had always wanted to do. Sadly for us, it rained all day and didn’t stop and not a ball was bowled, but the conversation between two great mates sitting there watching the rain fall all day was something I enjoyed at the time and will cherish forever; it was a throwback to the days playing at The Briars or on Moore Park together. Many, many problems of the world were solved that wet Saturday at Hurstville Oval.

Unfortunately, Ray’s health issues meant that he had a very difficult couple of years. It was comforting to see his mates rally around him and provide support when it was most needed. We had all been so hopeful that Big Ray would punch through; that it was just matter of time before things turned for the better. That’s just Ray, what else would you expect? Ironically, just as he had started to show some real positive signs in recent weeks, the big fella’s body just couldn’t fight anymore.

The word “legend” is bandied about with monotony, to the extent where its true value and meaning are diminished. However, occasionally we are fortunate enough to meet somebody, to have them become part of our lives, and it allows us to really understand what being a “legend” really means. “Legend” will having different meanings for each of us, but whatever it means for each of us who knew him, it has to include everything that was Anthony Raymond.

An absolute legend, those who got to play with Ray, those who got to work with Ray and those who got to umpire with Ray are fortunate to have done so. We could never want for a better teammate, and a better Briar, than Ray.

Like so many others, I love you, mate. Rest in Peace.

Gerard Abood.