Garrett Ray remembered as 'the soul of the community'

Former Littleton Independent editor/owner dies at age of 82 after long illness

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When former Littleton Independent editor and owner Garrett Ray died on Dec. 17, with him went a piece of Littleton's past.

“He was the soul of the community,” former Littleton City Manager Larry Borger said. “In the 1960s and '70s, lots of people were new to Littleton, and he provided a hometown feel. Through the Independent, he made Littleton a place people could connect to.”

Ray, 82, died at home after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Nina, son Ben, and numerous grandchildren.

Ray, who was inducted into the Colorado Press Association Hall of Fame in April, had many roles: father, husband, professor and journalist.

To those who knew him through his work at the Independent, where he started as a reporter in 1962, Ray was a hard-nosed journalist who cared deeply about his town.

Ray took the helm of the paper in 1969, buying it from legendary publisher Houstoun Waring and editor Ed Bemis. He held the post until 1981.

Borger said Ray was instrumental in drumming up support for the bond that created South Platte Park, along a floodplain devastated by the 1965 flood.

Ray was a friend, too: Borger remembered getting together to play guitar while their kids scampered around their feet.

“We called that a hootenanny back then,” Borger said. “We'd sing and drink beer and laugh. We had an arm's length relationship, though — I understood that if I screwed up, he'd report on it.”

Ray's accomplishments abound in Littleton, said former mayor Susan Thornton, thanks to the wellspring of ideas that came from the Littleton Leadership Retreat, a sort of city think tank.

The group's big ideas included the Town Hall Arts Center, the Littleton Immigrant Resource Center and the lowering of the railroad tracks that paved the way for light rail, Thornton said.

"He had a very powerful influence in shaping Littleton and making it the cool place that it is," she said. "He covered news in depth, and pretty much everybody read the paper back in those days."

After selling the Independent in 1981, Ray went on to a second career as a journalism professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Ray was a godsend to young journalism students, recalled Brian Clark, a former student of Ray's who went on to a long career in journalism and is now the creative director at the Colorado Health Institute.

“He had this calm, steady presence,” Clark said. “You meet people in journalism who are crass and hard, but Garrett was so gentle. It helped us learn without feeling that looming pressure.”

Ray came to Clark's wedding, he recalled, and sent him a kind letter when Clark lost his job when the Rocky Mountain News shut down in 2009.

Ray retired from CSU in 2001, and moved briefly to Wales, where he got a doctorate from Cardiff University.

Garrett and Nina moved back to Littleton in 2009.

Ray came by his journalism career honestly, said Nina, starting with a neighborhood newsletter produced on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine when he was 11.

The couple met in ninth grade in Greeley, and their married life brought lots of love and adventures, Nina said.

“Garrett was an adoring father and grandfather,” Nina said. “Being a newspaper editor meant he was in the office a lot, but we would go to our cabin in the mountains or take spring break in Mexico. You wouldn't know it from the line of work he was in, but Garrett was actually shy, and he hated conflict.”

Nina said she's thankful Ray is at peace after his long illness.

“I'm relieved,” Nina said by phone from her home at the Wind Crest retirement community in Highlands Ranch. “I'm tired, and I'm sad, but there's relief too.”

Ray's son Ben remembered his father as a man who could relate to anyone. 

"I don't know anyone who disliked him," Ben said. "He was every man's man. He was never elitist."

Ben said his dad loved hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. He fondly recalled the day they summitted Longs Peak in the company of a grizzled old mountain climber friend. 

"Dad found solace in the mountains," Ben said. "He could be away from the day-to-day, from breaking news and the concerns of the community. We didn't have cell phones back then, so he could just be alone with his thoughts."

Ray received many accolades over the years, including a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University, the Golden Quill and Eugene Cervi awards from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, the Keeper of the Flame award from the Colorado Society for Professional Journalists, a Hall of Fame induction at the Denver Press Club, and several others.

Ray stayed active in his later years, teaching an autobiography writing class in Highlands Ranch as recently as 2013.

Journalism's precarious state in the 21st century concerned Ray, who spoke to the Independent after his Hall of Fame induction in April. But he remained hopeful.

“I hope others," Ray said, "get to enjoy the wonderful type of life I led in journalism."
 

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