Ray Ryan, a Daily World sports writing legend who covered Twin Harbors athletics for nearly 50 years, died Monday in Tumwater.
Ryan, who had been battling cancer for several months, was 86. Funeral arrangements are pending and are scheduled to be announced later this week.
“For me and thousands of others whose lives he touched in a half-century on the Harbor, Ray Ryan will always be unforgettable,” former Daily World editor and publisher John Hughes wrote in an email. “He was a big-time talent in a small town that he adopted as his own. What a blessing that was. We may never see another one like him.”
Ryan was known for his passion for sports, his encyclopedic knowledge of Twin Harbors athletics and a vivid writing style often laced with sarcastic humor. A stickler for precise language, he often consulted a newsroom dictionary before using unfamiliar terminology in a story.
“While it’s impossible to quantify how much one person’s life may or may not have influenced another’s, I am certain that Uncle Ray influenced mine,” said former Daily World Entertainment Editor Jeff Burlingame, an Aberdeen High graduate who is now an award-winning author of biographical books. “Growing up reading his material certainly shaped my career pattern.”
“His knowledge of Harbor sports was second to none,” added Hoquiam track & field coach Tim Pelan. “He was just a wealth of information.”
But Ryan’s impact went far beyond his game stories and columns.
He was exceptionally active at St. Mary’s Catholic Church throughout his 48 years on Grays Harbor, serving as a lector and usher and volunteering on many other church projects, including the Feed the Hungry program.
An avid track and field follower, he founded the Grays Harbor Greyhounds youth summer track club that toured the Northwest for many years.
“For me, that is what got me to love track and field,” his son Mick, a member of the Aberdeen High Hall of Fame and later the coach of an Olympia High School state championship track team, recalled in 2001. “Those meets were our summer vacations. My dad would take kids from Hoquiam, Aberdeen, Montesano, Elma and the beaches to meets all over Washington, British Columbia and Oregon and it was a great way of seeing different parts of the state.”
Along with the late Hoquiam High coach Bill Jamison, Ryan was largely responsible for reviving the Grays Harbor All-County Track Meet.
“I appreciate people who love the sport and put the time in and there’s no greater person on the Harbor who enjoyed track and field more than Ray,” Pelan said.
Although inextricably linked with Grays Harbor sports writing, Ryan was a Seattle native who had never written professionally before moving to the Harbor in his late 30s.
A graduate of Lakeside School in Seattle, he attended Stanford University and earned a degree in business administration from the University of Washington. Following a pair of military hitches with the Navy and Air Force, he began a career as a bank clerk in Seattle. Unhappy with that profession, he applied for a Daily World opening as an East County reporter and was hired in 1965.
“He left a boring job as a Seattle banker to follow his first love — sports writing — in a small town,” Hughes remembered. “In nothing flat, his byline translated to ‘read me.’ He wrote quickly, with flair and wit. … Whenever Ryan wrote ‘And then Mo Mentum swapped jerseys,’ it never seemed like a cliche.”
Ryan succeeded Robbie Peltola as sports editor a few years later, but voluntarily relinquished the editor’s job in the mid-1970s to focus primarily on writing.
Retiring as a full-time writer in 1992, he agreed to continue as a part-time correspondent for “a few years.” Those few years turned to be nearly as long as his career as a full-time employee. He covered occasional games and wrote periodic columns through early this year and had intended to continue his weekly high school football prediction column this fall until his condition worsened.
Ryan’s writing attributes included a flair for nicknames.
He first dubbed Elma High School basketball sharpshooter Rod Derline “The Rifle,” a moniker that stuck through Derline’s professional career with the Seattle SuperSonics. His initially tongue-in-cheek designations for Hoquiam High School’s gym (Hoquiam Square Garden) and track (Sea Breeze Oval) also became universally accepted.
A fine all-around athlete in his youth, he returned to competition following his retirement. He won a slew of medals in senior track meets — although he puckishly acknowledged that he tended to seek events in which there were no other entrants.
Inducted into both the Aberdeen High School Hall of Fame and Grizzly Alumni Association Roll of Honor, Ryan received another tribute in 2011 when he was named the Polson Museum’s Pioneer of the Year.
“When you think about the number of individuals who you’ve had some part in their lives … you’ve made an impact here in a major way,” Polson Director John Larson told Ryan.
Complete obituary and funeral information will be published at a later date.