There is a scene at the beginning of the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech, when Colin Firth, playing King George VI of England, approaches a microphone to give a speech.
The entire stadium becomes hushed, and people look up at the king expectantly. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He stumbles over the first word, then people look away from him, ashamed.
Port Alberni businessman Jason Pley was crying long before that opening scene climaxed.
“There are very few people who truly understand the horror which that man felt at that moment,” says Pley. “I regret to say that I am one of those people.”
Pley, 39, has stuttered ever since he began to talk as a toddler.
“A stutter, to those of you lucky enough not to have experienced it, is a 30-foot wall which one’s words cannot surpass,” says Pley.
The King’s Speech hit him hard, he said, and has prompted him to go public with his story. “I had read several reviews before seeing the movie, as I had great interest in the story long before it reached our theatre.
“From the opening credits I felt a swell of pain which I had held deep inside me.”
His mother emigrated from England and he heard stories from his grandparents about running into bunkers during the Second World War when German bombers flew overhead.
Born and raised in Port Alberni, Pley said he has visited England twice “and saw first hand the destruction made by those bombers.
“My Grandad always said that I could be someone one day, but that I would have to ‘conquer that stutter’.”
To meet him, Pley is friendly, always smiling and affable. He knows his business, and exudes confidence when talking about the environmentally-conscious way he approaches roofing.
Unbeknownst to people he speaks to, he chooses his words carefully: sticking to those he knows he can pronounce with relatively little trouble.
It can take him a few seconds to get a word out — like the time it took him 47 seconds to say “gymnasium” when he was just a kid in elementary school.
But put a keyboard in front of him and he flourishes. He is eloquent, which he says is genetic: his mother, Anne Pley, is a published author and her father was an accomplished poet.
Pley’s flair for the written word also helped him win the heart of his wife Sarah, who he met over the Internet.
(When Pley approached the Alberni Valley News about telling his story, he asked if we would make an exception and conduct the interview by e-mail. Under the circumstances, we said yes.)
The couple married in 2004 and have two daughters, Hannah, 10, and Haven, 4. They are the inspiration behind Pley’s decision to break out of his shell and talk about his stuttering.
“My daughters have always seen me stutter, so they always thought that it was just normal,” he said. “My oldest daughter just recently picked up on the fact that Daddy sometimes has a hard time talking.”
There is a scene in The King’s Speech where his wife, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is reading to their two young daughters, and when the girls implore their father to read to them, he instead makes up a story.
Pley sees parallels to that scene too.
“I find that I do not want to read to my kids but when they come to me with a book, I find that I am obliged to give it my best go,” he said.
“They prefer their mother to read to them as they lose the focus of the story when I read to them. There are far too many pauses for their liking.”
Pley is one of six children: he has three brothers, Tony, Tim and Frank; and two sisters, Barb and Teresa. They were his rock for him when he was growing up.
“I always felt I had a place of haven when I came home from school,” he said. “I could not have asked for a better family. All of my siblings were very supportive and never, not even one time, teased me about my stuttering. Although we were not rich in money, we were abounding with riches in love.”
Like King George VI, Pley had a speech therapist while he attended school in Beaver Creek. With Mr. Slotiuk’s help Pley was able to skip a grade.
Over the years he has learned to adapt with his stutter. He texts his employees to inform them of upcoming work, uses e-mail to communicate occasionally—but always deals with his roofing clients face to face.
And he never stopped dreaming of owning his own business.
“I have talents which supercede my hindrances, so I felt like this was something I had to try,” he said.
“I have lived my life long enough as a prisoner of my problems. I feel like a man who has been in solitary confinement for 35 years and has been given a final chance at life.”