Ray Strowbridge: From wrestling ring to political arena

As appeared in the Telegraph-Journal on Jan. 23, 2017

The last time Ray Strowbridge saw his father, he was eight years old.

Growing up without a dad was “incredibly hard,” he says, as his mother, Margaret Haigh, struggled to make ends meet on Scott Avenue, one of the poorest streets in the Kennebecasis Valley.

But on that apartment-lined avenue crawling with children, Strowbridge, now 41, remembers then-Fairvale mayor Jigs Miller stopping by to talk to residents. His pockets were always filled with candy.

I was always fascinated by him, and politics,” says Strowbridge, who has been a Saint John city councillor for nearly five years. “People would flock to him.

Those early impressions continued to impact Strowbridge, who was born in Newfoundland, as he moved through elementary school. In Grade 6, his teacher orchestrated a mock election between three classes. They organized political parties and ran campaigns.

Strowbridge was elected president.

I dreamed of becoming a politician,” Strowbridge, who represents the east side’s Ward 4, says over a coffee at Tim Hortons on Loch Lomond Road. “I’ve always had a strong sense of community and where I belong.

As Strowbridge got older, his interests temporarily changed direction. Like many youth of his generation, he started to idolize the stars of the World Wrestling Federation, now known as the WWE. Posters of Hulk Hogan plastered his walls.

It was my religion growing up,” he says, adding he now connects his fondness for Hulk Hogan to the lack of a father figure in his life.

By the age of 16, Strowbridge made the “stupid” decision of dropping out of high school to pursue a wrestling career. He attended “wrestling school” in Moncton.

It wasn’t long before Strowbridge says he realized he wasn’t good, adding he returned to school and got his diploma a short time later.

I wouldn’t make it to Wrestlemania,” he says with a laugh. “It was a really big growing up moment.

Still, Strowbridge maintained his passion for wrestling, making appearances in Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling. He took on the persona of “Teddy Too Sweet Champagne,” a drag queen dressed in pink with a feather boa. The idea is to get a strong reaction from the crowd by getting fans to either love you or hate you, he says. Strowbridge was a “good guy.

It’s now been about 10 years since he has wrestled, though “they keep asking me to come back,” he says.

Strowbridge, who has been a paramedic for 20 years, says he has never taken any heat for his unique interest in wrestling.

Most people think it’s pretty cool,” he says, adding many locals who follow the wrestling scene remember his “Too Sweet” persona.

Fast forward to 2012, and Strowbridge threw his hat in the running for council after spending time on his now 11-year-old daughter Brooklyn’s Parent School Support Committee. The political fire in his belly never burned out, he says.

That first term on council under former mayor Mel Norton was an intense experience for the political rookie, as the politicians navigated one problem to the next – whether it was the desperate need for pension reform or securing funding for the city’s massive drinking water system overhaul.

So far, Strowbridge says this second term under Mayor Don Darling is rather quiet in comparison. It’s not as easy to point to big accomplishments in the first few months of this mandate, he adds.

The thing is, we don’t have any huge, crippling problems,” he says. “We’re like hungry soldiers looking for a fight, but there isn’t one. There are no big wins, because there are no big problems.

Strowbridge says there is a definite difference in the leadership styles of both Darling and Norton, but he doesn’t see that as a problem. Darling is not as “strict” in meetings as Norton was, for example. And Darling “doesn’t micro-manage.

With fewer problems to tackle, Strowbridge says he sometimes struggles with how to focus his energy. But he has found a happy medium in focusing on local neighbourhood needs.

He’s eager to see a splash pad built in the Forest Hills area, for example.

And he has just received word that the city will set aside $10,000 from its capital budget to build a dog park and shelter at the Little River Reservoir. These are the things he hears about when he goes door to door, he says.

They’re tangible – they matter.

A member of the city’s growth committee, Strowbridge says Saint John residents need to stop comparing themselves to the outlying communities.

We will always be more expensive because we’re bigger,” he says. It also doesn’t make sense to compare the city to Moncton, which is geographically smaller than Saint John.

Council recently voted to hold the tax rate, which hasn’t changed from $1.785 per $100 of assessed value for nine years. Strowbridge believes it doesn’t make sense to drop it by a cent for the sake of a few dollars in savings for each resident when the city’s revenues would drop by $673,000.

Why don’t you keep your $20 and pave roads, or improve a park. Taking $20 off my tax bill is an insult to me. Why not keep that money and invest in something that matters?



Another reason to run

One dark, January evening eight months ago, I was trying to get my stories finished at work and get home at a decent hour. It was close to 5 p.m. when my cellphone rang with a tip.

“You didn’t hear it from me, but go to Martha Avenue,” my source said. “You’ll get the biggest story since Dick Oland.”

As if, I thought. Nothing could be bigger than the Oland murder, an unsolved case involving the Moosehead Breweries family that rocked the city two years ago.

Still, I thought it should be checked out. I called more sources, who acted shifty when I asked what was going on at Martha Avenue. A photographer’s sixth sense kicked in, and was eager to tag along with me to the scene. Off we went.

We parked at the top of a knoll, out of sight of police who were arriving on the quiet, residential street. The officers walked in a duplex in plain clothes. Within a couple minutes they walked out with a man in cuffs. Cindy, the photographer, burst out of the car and snapped away furiously.

She showed me her preview screen. The image was grainy in the failing light. But my stomach dropped.

“Oh my God. Oh my God,” I said, trembling. “It’s Donnie. It’s Donnie Snook.”

It was sickening. It was the same city councillor I had spoken to dozens of times before. And somehow, I instantly knew why. The rumours were true. He was sexually abusing little kids.

The Telegraph-Journal the day after Snook's arrest, Jan. 10, 2013
The Telegraph-Journal the day after Snook’s arrest, Jan. 10, 2013

I could barely operate my phone to call my editor at the newsroom to explain what we saw. A few minutes later, I confirmed it was the RCMP’s Internet Child Exploitation unit who made the arrest. We all hoped it was a mistake.

This past week, it was confirmed once and for all that it wasn’t.

For two full days in court, we heard stomach-turning details about Snook’s crimes. He admitted to his guilt on 46 charges on 17 male victims over the past 12 years.

The betrayal this community is feeling is palpable. I sense it in so many people I speak to on a regular basis. There is a lot of anger too. But most of all, a sense of loss. The loss of innocence in all those children, who only needed someone to love.

One mother told me it felt like someone had died when she found out Snook had taken sordid videos of her son. I heard her cry in court as Snook promised he never disseminated those videos online. There’s no proof, but we’ll probably never know for sure.

My job is to report these things. I am only the messenger. But I can’t help but feel drained, empty, and sick after telling these stories. I hesitate to express how all of these affects me personally, because I feel like I have no right after the horror so many others have gone through.

This is why I run. I run to turn what would otherwise be tears into sweat. To turn negative, hopeless energy and sadness for humanity into something more positive. The longer the run, the better.

long run