He was the thunder to Ernie Harwell’s sunshine, a deep, powerful baritone that we teasingly called the Voice of God. You could hear Paul Carey for miles, you could find him in any room, you could always pick him out on a radio dial. All he had to do was talk. That voice. We knew that voice. On Wednesday, many of us heard it again, in the caverns of our memory, as word spread that the longtime Tigers announcer had passed away a month after his 88th birthday.
He died at home, in bed, having battled pulmonary and heart issues for a long time. He’d slipped into a coma near the end, and on Tuesday, his wife, Nancy, invited a beloved neighbor, Chrystel DeLosh, to come over and sing to him. DeLosh put her hand on Carey’s body, and began the opening verse of “Ave Maria.”
“His breathing eased,” Nancy said, “and he died.”
Can there be anything more fitting, a beautiful voice sending off a beautiful voice?
But Carey was more than his vocal cords. He was a beautiful soul as well. Weaned in the era of gentleman broadcasters, Carey was all the things Ernie Harwell was, you just didn’t know it because we used all the adjectives on Ernie first.
Kind? He was kind. Polite? He was polite. Faithful? He and his wife were regulars at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Rochester Hills. Humble? His biggest surprise, for years after he retired in 1991, was when people recognized him and made a fuss.
“You’re Paul Carey!” someone would exclaim.
“You must be very old,” he would answer.
And a Tigers man? Well. Not only did Carey broadcast the local baseball team for 19 years, he grew up rooting for them. Unlike the Georgia-born Harwell, who was adopted as a favorite Michigander, Carey had the actual pedigree — born in Mt. Pleasant, schooled at Central Michigan and Michigan State.
He cut a path through local broadcasting as a college announcer, a disc jockey, a program director and pretty much everything in between. Even when he reached the 50,000-watt WJR, then the flagship for the Tigers, Carey worked the equipment and often carried it as well, lugging it on the road, wiring it, pressing the buttons, packing and unpacking. He was like a concert pianist who traveled with his own tuning fork.
But his accomplishments only tell half the story. For all he did that made him singular, Carey’s greatest role was that of a partner.
Buddies in the booth
His most famous partnership, of course, was with Harwell, whom he joined for Tigers broadcasts in 1973. In the early days, they crawled into an old hanging photographer’s nest at Tiger Stadium that doubled as their booth (“We had to swing open a gate, walk past fans, drop down and try not to bump our head,” he once told me.) It was like entering a submarine, and they dealt with challenges more suited to warfare than radio. There was cyclone fencing they had to peek through and when a hard foul ball came back at them it literally left a dent in the exterior, as if a tank had taken a small mortar round.
And then there was the issue of a bathroom. There wasn’t one. The nearest facility was if you left the booth and walked all the way up to the press box.
“There was a small sink in that booth … ” Carey told me.
We’ll leave it at that.
But in such Spartan quarters, Carey and Harwell made radio magic. There will likely never be a more beloved broadcast team in this state than those two, not only because they called a game that was meant for summer days and transistors on the beach, but because even through the tiniest speakers, you could hear the sounds of two professionals who loved what they did.
Both the genteel Harwell and the deep-voiced impeccable Carey were students of the game. And their partnership was forged with that rarest of adhesive: respect.
Did you know that once, during a no-hitter by Randy Johnson, Harwell, who did the first and last three innings, offered Carey the chance to broadcast the ninth? And Carey politely refused, saying, “No, no, Ernie, this is your inning, you deserve it.”
Did you know that for years, Carey smoked in the booth (“like a chimney,” Harwell once told me, laughing) but despite their close quarters, Ernie never asked him to stop, not wanting to rob his partner of the joy he got from it?
Did you know that when Harwell was let go by the Tigers, and held an emotional farewell news conference to tell the media, it was Carey who walked out with him and escorted him to his car, just the two of them?
Carey never stopped gushing about Ernie. When a play about Harwell opened here in Detroit six years ago, Carey was there to see it, again, and again and again, and when Carey’s picture appeared on the screens, and the actor playing Harwell said the words “my dear friend,” Carey started crying.
A sidekick at home
It takes a special man to be a great partner. Carey was that — not only with Harwell, but with Nancy, his wife of 30 years, and with his church, and with charitable organizations.
And with the community. He loved Michigan. He loved Detroit. He was amazed at how much it loved him back. Even his pulmonary physician, Dr. Matthew Trunsky, from Troy Beaumont, remembered being in the office about 10 years ago and hearing a voice coming from the check-in desk. He couldn’t see who it was, but his first thought was:
“Was it Paul Carey here to see me?”
As it turned out, it was for the start of problems that would lead Carey to the end. But even as his health failed, the humble announcer remained who he was. He once gave Trunsky a baseball from the 1984 World Series signed by Harwell and Sparky Anderson.
“You need to sign it as well,” the doctor insisted.
“No, no,” Carey demurred. “I’m not worthy of that.”
In the final months, things deteriorated rapidly. “We saw so many ‘ologists’ it was pathetic,” Nancy said. “I looked at our January calendar and all it was doctors’ appointments, sometimes three a week.”
It wasn’t the life Carey wanted. When he realized his time was growing short, he became determined to soldier on to celebrate his wife’s 70th birthday. Despite struggles with his breathing and walking, “He lived for that party,” she said. “He so wanted to be there.”
It was held last week, a smaller affair than Paul had hoped to throw, but a lovely one, Nancy said.
The next day “he fell asleep,” she recalled, and he never really woke up. His last real act, fittingly, was one of partnership, this time a marriage.
His funeral will be Saturday, at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Rochester (their regular church is too small for the anticipated crowd, Nancy admitted) and Chrystel DeLosh, the woman who sung him off this life will be there to sing a farewell, something Paul himself requested.
And no matter what your view of faith, in Paul’s world there is only one view of what happens next: a reunion, no doubt, of the two halves of our voices of summer, the Voice of the Turtle and the Voice of God, side by side again, their old equipment shiny and new, thunder and sunshine, up there in the clouds.
Paul Carey services
Visitation will be 2-8 p.m. Friday at Modetz Funeral Home, Silverbell Chapel, 100 E. Silverbell Road in Orion Township.
A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 620 Romeo Road in Rochester. Visitation starts at 10 a.m.
Memorial contributions can be made to Special Olympics Michigan, Rochester Hills Public Library and Leader Dogs for the Blind.