George Ramos remembered as tough reporter, tough teacher

July 25, 2011

Photo courtesy of Mustang Daily

CalCoastNews editor George Ramos, who was found dead at his Morro Bay home over the weekend, is being remembered by a former Los Angeles Times colleague as “a tough guy reporter with a big heart.” [LA Observed]

Frank Sotomayor, a former Times editor, wrote Monday about his friend and colleague, saying that the two of them had planned to see one another next weekend in Los Angeles. “The last time we talked, I asked him for his cell number. ‘I don’t have one and I don’t want one,’ he replied. ‘You must be the only one in California,’ I said. No, he laughed. ‘There are three of us.’

Unhappy with how Latinos were being covered by their own newspaper, Sotomayor and Ramos served as co-editors of a special series of articles for the Times in 1983, “Latinos in Southern California.” The distinguished reporting earned Ramos his first Pulitzer Prize and cemented the friendship between the two young reporters.

Sotomayor also recalled the time in 1992 when Ramos was confronted by a gunman outside the Times building:  “At the start of the L.A. riots, he was threatened by a gunman outside the Times building. George didn’t budge, telling the man: ‘I’m a reporter…I don’t know what you’re going to do but I’m going to do my job.’ As George wrote later: ‘He didn’t shoot. He just picked up a rock, flung it at the Times and ran away.'”

Ramos went on to include the story in his first-person coverage of the Los Angeles riots that started later that evening, fueled by the verdict in the Rodney King beating case. Expressing his disappointment about the unfolding drama in the city, Ramos wrote “Los Angeles, you broke my heart. And I’m not sure I’ll love you again.”

Sotomayor thought that Ramos was a natural for the classroom and recalls that his friend helped boost the journalism career of many students over the years.

“After work, George taught reporting at USC evening classes. He was tough there too, but it would be more accurate to call it “tough love,” better to prepare aspiring journos for the rigors of the reporting life . . .George loved his work with students, knowing that he influenced not only their careers but also their lives.

One former Ramos student, Lauren M. Rabaino, wrote in her blog: “But the most important thing to know is that though he put on a tough face, he really and truly cared about his students. He wanted us to succeed and he supported what he did.”

A Facebook memorial page has been established as a tribute to Ramos.

Ramos, 63, was a graduate of Cal Poly, who returned to campus after retiring from the Times in 2003. He served as chair of the Journalism Department for five years before returning to full-time teaching.

 


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6 Comments

  1. oto says:

    In the spirit of the Irish wake, this is my toast to you, George. I first met you by chance in 1983, I believe, at a reunion of Cal Poly grads who had survived the plane crash of a group of football players from Cal Poly SLO who were en route to Bowling Green, Ohio for a game. I took some pictures and told you I aspired to be a reporter but didn’t have the training, and you said, “It looks like you’re doing what you should be doing, right now.” When I developed my roll of film, (and this is no bull,) the film must have jammed in the camera, because the only pictures which came out were the two or three shots I took of the Bowling Green survivors. The reunion was for the entire graduating class, but the only pictures that came out, were the ones of the guys who came up to me and told me what had happened to them, and why they were there…..

    The second meeting was around twenty years later, after you took over as the Journalism Dept. chair. I attempted to get you to have a class of journalism students take on a project involving corruption in the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Dept., when the department under Patrick Hedges was altering evidentiary exhibits to obtain the conviction of innocent people. You were not interested, and my general impression was that you were not interested because you were a bit of a chauvanist and ethnocentric. But what the Hell, George, maybe you were just busy….I remember the crack you made which I found rather incongruous for a teacher: “Why would you want students to do this? They wouldn’t know what to do.” or words to that effect. Well, George, soldiers really “don’t know what to do” until their on a battlefield, do they? You should have stuck with being a reporter, George. You were not cut out for bureaucracy. You were a great writer.

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  2. NNSMOM2005 says:

    George didn’t come back to Cal Poly by accident. I first got to know George in 1992, when I was a junior at Poly. He had a plan even then for his beloved Journalism Department. He saw what was lacking, and he wanted to be a part of the solution. He didn’t care who he offended or what protocol he was supposed to follow. He was a thorn in the side of administrators, especially Cal Poly President Warren Baker. It didn’t bother George a bit to camp out in Baker’s office or tap on the door of his private residence. George’s mission meant a blessed many Cal Poly Journalism students had the opportunity to learn under a tremendous teacher and in an environment that grew ever closer to its potential. George made sure his beloved Cal Poly Journalism program was not allowed to disappear or remain in the declining state it had been in for a few years. The university is known for its engineers and ag, but George made sure we journalism “kiddos” got our share of quality education, too. George and a handful of other amazing journalism icons — Jim Hayes, Herb Kamm, and Marv Sosna — made Cal Poly journalism a wonderful place to learn the craft he loved.

    I didn’t actually attend any of George’s classes. That’s not to say I didn’t learn from him. He didn’t teach at Cal Poly during my time there, but he made the trip to SLO as often as possible to check in on us and offer advice. He met us in the newsroom, in the classroom, and at the bar. He would say, “I want to know what’s really going on.” He listened to us. He took us seriously. He cared. He became my very good friend. I miss him already.

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  3. NNSMOM2005 says:

    George was all the things others have mentioned — tough, funny, a real character — and a whole lot more.

    George didn’t come back to Cal Poly by accident. I first got to know George in 1992, and he had a plan even then for his beloved Journalism Department. He saw what was lacking, and he wanted to be a part of the solution. He didn’t care who he offended or what protocol he was supposed to follow. He was a thorn in the side of administrators, especially Cal Poly President Warren Baker. It didn’t bother George a bit to camp out in Baker’s office or tap on the door of his private residence. George’s mission meant a blessed many Cal Poly Journalism students had the opportunity to learn under a tremendous teacher and in an environment that grew ever closer to its potential. George made sure his beloved Cal Poly Journalism program was not allowed to disappear or remain in the declining state it had been in for a few years. The university is known for its engineers and ag, but George made sure we journalism “kiddos” got our share of quality education, too. George and a handful of other amazing journalism icons — Jim Hayes, Herb Kamm, and Marv Sosna — made Cal Poly journalism a wonderful place to learn the craft he loved.

    I didn’t actually attend any of George’s classes. That’s not to say I didn’t learn from him. He didn’t teach at Cal Poly during my time there, but he made the trip to SLO as often as possible to check in on us and offer advice. He met us in the newsroom, in the classroom, and at the bar. He would say, “I want to know what’s really going on.” He listened to us. He took us seriously. He cared.

    While I mourn for the loss of George as a teacher to future journalists, I remember him most for his friendship. Those meetings at the bar(s) where I saw him swill his fair share of beer and tequila created some really funny memories. His loss has carved a whole in my heart. I miss him already.

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  4. glenjustice says:

    I had the privilege of taking intro reporting with George, many moons ago. He was a great person, and a great teacher. In fact, his teaching did not stop when I graduated. I spoke with him before I myself began teaching journalism, and his advice was a tremendous help. There are many of us, in newsrooms throughout the country, who are mourning his loss today. He will be missed.

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  5. Typoqueen says:

    Wow, what an interesting man. Thanks for the article Karen and thank you djswansonapr for the post, I’m glad that I know more about Mr. Ramos. I had no idea that we had such great journalistic royalty right here on our little coast.

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  6. djswansonapr says:

    George brought me to Cal Poly in 2006. He kind of tricked me to get me there- because he didn’t tell me everything I *really* needed to know about what was happening in the department. (Yeah, thanks a lot, George!!) But it was the right thing for me to do. I enjoyed working with George. He was warm, knowledgeable, funny (at times, hilarious), prickly, difficult, frustrating, caring, insightful, and an amazing advocate for students. I am sorry he is no longer with us, and I am especially sorry for the Journalism Department that benefited greatly from his professional abilities.

    I will always remember George as a snappy dresser: Uncombed hair, three days’ growth of beard, a stained polo shirt, sweat pants with suspenders –you think I’m kidding but I am not, George wore sweat pants with suspenders— and tennis shoes that looked like they had come through a war. And, of course, the ever-present “Cal Poly BS” gold ring. (And if you haven’t heard the story 15 times, you’ve not spent much time around George!)

    Thank you, Senior Ramos. I will miss you and your stories. Rest easy.

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