Sociologist turns hand to gathering stories

Rick Ponting started a business that makes available stories to loved ones and descendants.

Rick Ponting

Rick Ponting

When Courtenay sociologist Rick Ponting heard Howard, his 84-year-old neighbour, recount his harrowing tales of his early career as an industrial electrician, he knew that those stories and the remarkable life story of their teller had to be recorded for posterity.

The endearing account of Howard the young truant (a full month of fishing as a seven-year-old!) and the romantic courtship of Jeannie only affirmed Ponting’s decision to start a business that would capture such stories to make them available to the storyteller’s loved ones and descendants.

Thus emerged The Gift of Voice, one of Courtenay’s new businesses. It draw’s upon Ponting’s professional training as an interviewer, and the decades of interview and other research he conducted during his 32-year career as a sociologist and university professor.

“I’ve always enjoyed research and especially interviewing,” says Ponting. “It’s immensely satisfying, particularly now that I’m helping clients to make themselves known to future generations of their family. Through the recording of their stories, philosophies and accumulated wisdom, they’ll be much more than just a name on a family tree. They can be an influence, even a role model, for their great grandchildren and beyond.”

The recordings provide a means of spanning the generations, and they do it in the actual voice of the interviewee.

“I wish I could hear the actual voices of my parents and grandparents, all of whom have passed on,” says Ponting.

Even the interviewees’ children learn things about their parents from the interviews. That is part of the ‘gift’ that is captured in the name, The Gift of Voice.

Interviews can be as brief or as detailed as the client wishes. The interviews with Howard amounted to more than 12 hours spread over eight sessions and several weeks.

The business model involves Ponting formulating the interview questions, conducting interviews which he records digitally, and then providing the interviewee with a CD containing the interviews.

It sounds simple, but Ponting points out that developing the right questions is crucial to the success of an interview.

Interviews are by no means merely chronologies. The distinctiveness of the enterprise, and part of the added value that it offers in the marketplace, is based on Ponting’s use of sociological perspectives to create new lines of questioning.

“Sociologists have various lenses for looking at the world in ways that most people do not,” Ponting said. “Part of my task is to mine the sociological literature for perspectives that yield a richer understanding of the matter under discussion. I do it without jargon so that the interviewee is comfortable with it but says: Now that’s an interesting question.”

Ponting’s professionalism extends well beyond his interviewing skills that enable him to elicit answers and help clients form and articulate their thoughts and memories. It includes a sense of ethics and discretion honed through decades of interviewing persons across a wide spectrum of positions.

An ethic of community service also characterizes The Gift of Voice. A commitment to donate at least 25 per cent of all profit is included on the website:

Gift certificates are available for those who wish to give interview sessions as a gift to a loved one. Ponting is also accepting bookings for those who wish to be interviewed themselves.

Comox Valley Record