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Ray Ryan, longtime Daily World sportswriter, dies at 86

JACOB JONES | THE DAILY WORLD Longtime Daily World sportswriter Ray Ryan discusses his long career in reporting at his regular coffee shop in the Southside Swanson’s grocery store in 2011. Ryan had been named the Pioneer of the Year at the Polson Museum for his contributions to Harbor history through telling the stories of local atheletes.
JACOB JONES | THE DAILY WORLD Longtime Daily World sportswriter Ray Ryan discusses his long career in reporting at his regular coffee shop in the Southside Swanson’s grocery store in 2011. Ryan had been named the Pioneer of the Year at the Polson Museum for his contributions to Harbor history through telling the stories of local atheletes.
Kathy Quigg | The Daily World Ray Ryan works at his desk in the newsroom in the early 1990s.
Kathy Quigg | The Daily World Ray Ryan works at his desk in the newsroom in the early 1990s.
Daily World Archives Ray Ryan admires a gift during a gift exchange at a Daily World Christmas party.
Daily World Archives Ray Ryan admires a gift during a gift exchange at a Daily World Christmas party.

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.