A few times a week, I find myself arriving at the office early enough to think, “Maybe I’ll be the first one here today.”
Invariably, I walk in the door to find the lights are already on and Roger Gay is already at his desk working. I imagine many of our co-workers think of the senior designer as “that quiet guy who works so hard and comes in so early.”
The best word I could use to describe Roger is prolific; he has this amazing breadth of work and life experiences.
Most people have skills that are hard to quantify, so we use adjectives like hard working, funny, intelligent, friendly, dedicated. All of those are certainly accurate ways to portray him.
But in Roger’s case, the numbers help tell some amazing stories.
14: Roger was the 14th employee at Paradowski, starting in October of 1996. At the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he was in the last class that was required to learn the California job case for typesetting.
Though he no longer calls on that knowledge for his daily work, the experience left him with some interesting tidbits of knowledge.
“I learned the meaning of phrases like ‘mind your p’s and q’s’ and terms like ‘leading.’” When you set type by hand, all the letters are in reverse, so a “p” looks like a “q” and vice versa. And the space between lines of type used to be achieved by placing thin strips of lead between the rows on the press.
5: Roger and his wife Debbie have 5 children (Michelle, Eric, Rachel, Josh, Ethan) and 5 grandchildren (Wyatt, Aidan, Grace, Kayleigh, Skylar).
8: The number of times he has seen the Rolling Stones live in concert. He believes his love for them is at least partially explained by his parents’ reaction the first time they played the Ed Sullivan show.
“Music has always been important in my life, and I think it’s because growing up, Sunday night we always watched the Ed Sullivan Show. I remember when the Beatles were on for the first time, and I went around singing ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ for weeks. My mom and dad weren’t very happy with the Beatles, but when the Rolling Stones came on, they turned them off. We didn’t watch Ed Sullivan for years after that. So I think that’s why I have such a fascination for them, they were my first rock concert in high school, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.”
40: The number of years that passed between his first Rolling Stones concert and his most recent, also at Arrowhead in KC. His sons took him as a Father’s Day present.
1: The number of times he has tried sushi and pork brains.
“Someone told me it [brains] was a breaded tenderloin, and I thought, ‘This is the mushiest tenderloin I’ve ever had.’”
500: His estimated minimum number of live concerts he has attended in his life. A sampling of the highlights would include his 8 Rolling Stones shows, David Bowie’s Heroes tour, REM at Graham Chapel on the campus of Washington University, John Lee Hooker at the Blue Note in Columbia, MO, and Elvis Presley at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, one month before he died.
“Recently I saw The Brian Jonestown Massacre at Off Broadway in St. Louis, and they played for three hours! I told my son that was one of my top ten shows of my entire life.”
52: The number of books he tries to read every year. Though he grew up an avid reader–he was a childhood devotee of Charles Dickens–he fell out of the habit once he and his wife starting having kids. One day, one of his sons came home with a summer reading list, asking Roger for his opinion on what he should read. To his embarrassment, he had only read three of the books on the list. He immediately set himself to the task of remedying that, and after polishing off that list, he established the book-a-week goal that he has tried to maintain ever since.
His literary tastes are as varied as his musical tastes, and he moves easily from informed opinions on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (“possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read”) and Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (“one of my favorite books”) to Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (“that was like CSI, it was so good!”) and Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five (“he holds up very well over time”).
6: The number of bedrooms in his house, a three-story Victorian in the Tower Grove East neighborhood of South St. Louis. With all the children and grandchildren who are likely to visit at any given time, he wants to have room for everyone. All that space comes with responsibilities, in the form of improvements and repairs.
“I kind of enjoy home improvement, but I’ve also kind of been forced into it. Lately, I’ve started to think that old homes are for young people, and vice versa.”
2: The number of times he has traveled outside the United States, both during the past six years.
“About six years ago, Debbie and I decided it was time to start traveling.”
Their first adventure began with an impulse purchase of a Groupon for a trip to Italy. When they pressed click on the sale, they didn’t even have passports. A few months later, they boarded a flight to Rome.
“We had a rental car, and had to drive to this castle outside of Florence, where we were staying. The highway was nuts, they drive like maniacs–they go in between lanes, they make up lanes, we were just frightened.”
Thankfully, they arrived in one piece, eventually have a fabulous time and catching the travel bug for good.
Last year they visited London and Paris. In London, Roger indulged the bits of cultural history that overlapped with his musical and literary interests, visiting Hyde Park where the Stones once played, and walking across Abbey Road, a la the Beatles. He and his wife also found the pub both Dickens and Shakespeare are said to have frequented, where they enjoyed a commemorative meal of fish and chips.
“In Paris, I had to find the place where Julia Child and her husband, Paul, used to eat. I grew up watching her, I thought she was so cool.”
Potential future destinations include other European locales like Scotland and Ireland, along with revisiting some domestic spots, such as the Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Washington, D.C.
459: Approximate (my unofficial estimate) number of snarky Slack channel comments Roger makes each year. Obviously this would be difficult to confirm, but rarely does a day go by without Roger making some clever remark among the normal digital interactions with his peers. Chances are most of them never get noticed, which makes his dedication to the art form that much more impressive.
1: Number of times he has accidentally hit “Reply All” on an email that wasn’t intended for client viewing. It was many years ago, but he vividly recalls how things went. At that point in Paradowski’s history, the designers had far more daily interaction with clients.
One client in particular registered a complaint about something, and in a fit of snark, Roger typed the message, “Oh, get me a tissue!” and without paying close attention to his list of recipients, clicked “Send.”
“Then I realized I had sent it to everyone, and had to do damage control. I got on the phone with her to apologize, and she was so gracious. She said she thought it was hilarious, and she was sharing it with her co-workers, who all got a big laugh, so it turned out good.”
18: Years he spent growing up on a farm, in a small town about 50 miles outside of Kansas City.
“I always thought that was the best thing: growing up on farm until I was 18, then moving to the big city.”
He has fond memories of playing with the piglets as a young boy, and running barefoot in the field behind his father’s tractor.
76: Approximate number of co-workers who are incredibly fortunate to have someone with Roger’s combination of intelligence, work ethic, humor and general agreeability around every day.