All About Estates

‘Ralph the Programme Guy’ (part 2)

Last week, Audrey Miller took the initiative to blog about ‘Ralph the Programme Guy’ and reflected on the lesson learned from his ‘eccentric’ life and sad, lonely death. I hope that the blogosphere will forgive my indulgence in following up on an issue that is only indirectly related to testamentary capacity.

Since my childhood days,  I also had known ‘Ralph’, whose real name was Rayfield Platner. Rayfield was probably a variation on Rafael. His parents were refugees from Europe, creative/artistic individuals who were also ‘eccentric’ and died while ‘Ralph’ was still a young man leaving him alone in the world. ‘Ralph’ suffered from a serious mental disorder from childhood on that profoundly affected his ability to sit still, concentrate and relate socially. He was brilliant and had an encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything as well as a photographic memory. Because of his mental disability he could not pursue a normal education or develop lasting relationships. Yet, ‘Ralph’ maximized his potential in life by finding a vocation (selling programmes) that was compatible with his extreme hyperactivity, short attention span and social awkwardness. As seen from last week’s outpouring of affection, admiration, respect and sense of loss, ‘Ralph’ still managed to touch the hearts and souls of many. For me, ‘Ralph’s’ story is one of a true hero who showed resilience, determination and courage in the face of severe personal adversity. Remarkably, he remained independent, living on his own, hustling programmes at major Sports events, working out daily, scrounging meals at Jewish community functions and reading voraciously.

Had anyone been asked to assess ‘Ralph’s’ mental capacity, they would have been hard pressed to find parameters that would fit this one-of-a kind individual – a reminder that mental capacity is both task-specific and situation-specific. While I suspect that ‘Ralph’ may have died intestate (though I do not know), he still left a legacy that profoundly affected all who knew him. Thank you Audrey for remembering ‘Ralph’ in this Estates blog. He is worthy of such recognition.

About Dr. Ken Shulman
Dr. Shulman graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto in 1973 and did postgraduate training in Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He then went on to do specialty training in Geriatric Psychiatry in London, England. Since 1978, he has been based at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto. He is the inaugural recipient of the Richard Lewar Chair in Geriatric Psychiatry at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto. Currently, he is the Chief of the Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook. Dr. Shulman has had a longstanding interest in the issue of testamentary capacity and vulnerability to undue influence and has been qualified as an expert witness in Estate matters in Ontario and Alberta. Together with colleagues he has published several papers in the area of testamentary capacity in international journals and is a frequent presenter at legal continuing education conferences on Estates and Trusts. Email: