Thursday, December 23, 2010

Farewell to a Friend. Roger Ranch 1942-2010

--- by Jeanne Devon

Today, Anchorage lost a great soul. He wasn’t a political leader, he didn’t hold office, but he did what we all should do – he showed up. And he didn’t just show up for a pet cause, or a particular belief. He showed up for all of them. He showed up for labor, and women, and LGBT rights, and the planet, and peace, and to support his community. Every rally, every march, every event, there was Roger. If he found a candidate he believed in, he was there every day volunteering and doing what he could.

Even if people didn’t know him personally, they always knew Roger was there. Silver hair, silver beard, and one of a variety of hats – usually straw, or a baseball cap. A growly papa bear voice, twinkly blue eyes, a ready smile and an ever present travel mug of coffee. I once told him he had the best laugh ever, a devilish baritone chuckle that lit up a conversation and made everyone else laugh too. If you earned one of those laughs it made you feel good.

I was trying to remember the first time I met Roger, and I couldn’t. It was more like he was a constant presence, a living signpost that something was going on that was worthy and important. He’d just always been there – a solid, dependable omnipresent lion. In Roger’s case, the old adage proved true – still waters ran deep. After a time, Roger and I became friends and he’d come up behind me and bump his shoulder to mine and growl, “Hey there.” And I’d say, “Hey there, Mr. Ranch,” and I knew everyone was present and accounted for.

Sometimes he’d pop in to my place of work and I’d get a call, “Your friend Roger is here.” At times I was busy, and I’d sigh and wonder how I had the time. But I’d always get up from my desk and go downstairs, and Roger and I would talk for a while about some political goings on, or something on the blog. And then I’d tell him I had to get back to work, and I’d walk back up the stairs, and I was always glad I hadn’t said I was too busy. A predictable byproduct of a conversation with Roger was always a smile.

Roger loved the blog and left comments under his nickname “Bones AK.” He’d been a medic in Okinawa, and a physicians assistant in Bethel. He was a bonesetter, and if I’d ever had a broken bone, he’s the guy I’d want to set it straight. Bones at his core was the kind of guy that you always knew had your back, and was looking out for you to make sure you were OK. The profession and he made perfect sense together.

I’ve been with people today who loved him. Not his biological family of whom there are few and none in Alaska – but his family of choice, his circle of friends who shared his passion and his company. The thing that struck me so much about Roger, turned out to be the thing that defined him for everyone, that he was a fundamentally good and decent man. There aren’t many true hearts of gold that walk the earth, and now there is one less.

When someone we care about dies, it’s always a tragedy. But there are deaths when we can say to ourselves, “It was just his time,” or “at least he died doing something he loved.” And then there are times when the universe seems utterly unfair and a good, decent person has an end that makes no sense.

Roger died in a fire. Roger had tickets purchased for a New Year’s Eve concert, and he had a lunch date today, and a special gift he was going to buy for a special person. But the universe had other plans. Or it just made a terrible mistake.

It didn’t feel like his time, and it didn’t feel like the way he should have gone. The story of his life wasn’t supposed to end like this. First responders were there just three minutes after the call came, but by then the flames had already engulfed his trailer. Anchorage firefighters broke through the window with axes and got him out. He made it to the hospital, but all that they could do was keep him comfortable, until he passed away in the early morning hours.

I like to think that somehow the souls of the departed give one last lap around before they head off to parts unknown. If Roger’s soul had done a lap today, I think he would have been surprised by the number of people affected so deeply by his life, and the leaving of it. The initial shock and grieving, and shed tears and hugs are not the things that will mark his passing. It will be every event, and rally, and campaign headquarters where he will not be. His absence will be felt as strongly as if it were a presence in itself.

A true and steady light has gone out.

You will be missed, my friend.


For those friends wanting to gather to remember Roger, come to the Taproot Cafe on Thursday, December 23 at 5:30pm. This is normally the time for the taping of Moore Up North, a weekly event Roger never missed. The show is on hiatus for the holidays, but it seemed fitting somehow for friends to congregate at this time. It’s not a memorial service, just a place to come and be together.

Other tributes to Bones:

Jeanette at Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis

Shannyn Moore

John Aronno

Jesse Griffin

Phil Munger

Art by Rod Gonzales

1 comment:

Margie Gibson said...

I met Roger 25 or so years ago and he has been part of our lives since then. Roger was an orthopedic PA, and worked with my husband Mike Holloway (an orthopedist) both in clinics in Bethel and later at the Alaska Native Medical Center. Now Mike is retired and we spent winters in New Mexico.

Although Roger told us something about his activities in the progressive community I had no idea how active he was. I really appreciated your column and also the links to other people who wrote about him. I cried but I laughed too.

If you have any idea how to connect with his sister-in-law Margery or any of his nephews Mike and I would like to do that. Our email is