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Robert Earl "Bob" Ratcliff

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Robert Earl "Bob" Ratcliff

Federal Way sports lost one of its most avid fans when Robert Earl "Bob" Ratcliff passed away on October 11, 2012. His attendance at hundreds of games each year at local high schools went beyond just attending -- he became personally acquainted with several generations of student athletes and provided individual encouragement and in some cases even financial support. A news article in 2008 commemorating his standing as "the city's biggest sports fan" noted that his "black-rimmed glasses and giant white sideburns are as constant and recognizable as the scoreboards at area gyms." He felt more than paid back when the former athletes now adults would approach him in public to thank him. His devotion to youth sports spanned his life, including over five decades volunteering as a track coach and official. He was an early outspoken advocate for opening team sports to girls, and also was one of the original organizers of the Special Olympics in Washington State.

Bob was born in Ritzville, Washington on June 6, 1922 to Leslie and Anna McGrath Ratcliff and grew up on his family's farms near Ritzville and then Newport, Washington. He graduated from Newport High School where he was himself a successful athlete, including playing on a football team that went 13-0 one year. During World War II, he enlisted in October 1943 in the Army and served in combat as a demolition expert on islands in the South Pacific. Returning from the war, he completed a BA degree at Eastern Washington State College, graduating in 1951, and later, after moving to Seattle to teach, earned a Masters Degree from Seattle University. He devoted himself to a career as a teacher of crafts to special needs students in the Seattle School District for over three decades. With his dedication and energy he helped guide many of the most challenging students through school to graduation as well as inspiring them to creative work in pottery, wood carving and other media that led to awards for them. One of those students with whom Bob enjoyed continuing contact is Gregory Blackstock who has become a successful Seattle artist late in life, acclaimed for his unique perspective.

Bob had a rich and varied number of civic involvements. These included his membership for 58 years in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, rising to the position of Exalted Ruler of the Everett Elks in 1963-1964. Living in Edmonds for many years, he joined with others to help found the Edmonds Arts Festival. His wife, Helen Ratcliff, worked many years as a professional social worker in the King County Juvenile Court system but when her appointment by Governor Dan Evans to the Washington State Parole Board drew her to work out of Olympia, they moved south to Federal Way. There Bob served on the Federal Way Arts Commission. For many years after he retired from teaching, he also spent extended time each month acting as a Trustee, administrator and all-around handyman for a small complex of housing for older women left with almost no financial resources.

Bob and Helen's home on Steele Lake provided a perfect setting for Bob's passion for gardening, and there each year he would plant over 400 dahlias, a spectacular sight. As a lifelong collector of antiques, diverse memorabilia, and old books, another pastime was as a frequent wanderer through garage, yard and estate sales. Many of his innumerable finds became special gifts for relatives and friends.

Bob is survived by his daughter Robyn Smith, granddaughter Shannon Pfeifer (Matt), grandson Robert Smith (Gina), great-granddaughters Kaitlin Haney and Madison Smith, great-grandson Robert Barmore-Smith, step-granddaughters Amber and Desteny Pfeifer, brother Warren Ratcliff, and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.

Bob's family wants to give thanks to the Group Health Hospice team that took such wonderful care of him and the family in his final months.

Bob Ratcliff requested that his body be donated to the University of Washington School of Medicine Willed-Body Program for research and study. Remembrances in his name can be made to Washington State Special Olympics (See:

http://specialolympicswashington or a .
Published in The Seattle Times on Nov. 22, 2012
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