CalCoastNews editor George Ramos dead at 63

July 24, 2011


George Ramos, best known for being a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times journalist, a Cal Poly journalism department chair and CalCoastNews Editor, has died. He was 63 years old.

Police officers found Ramos’ body in a hallway of his Morro Bay home Saturday after CalCoastNews investigative reporter Karen Velie insisted they break into the home and check on his well-being.

Ramos, who was suffering from increased complications from diabetes, had been unresponsive to staff calls for several days. Signs, out of the ordinary for Ramos, such as an old newspaper lying outside his front door, prompted Velie to call for help.

While an autopsy has not yet been conducted, his death is suspected to be from natural causes. His time of death was not immediately known.

Boisterous, fiery and passionate, Ramos was a man known for many things and when you crossed his path it was unlikely you could forget that fact. Ramos was a proud man and rightfully so, considering his life of many accomplishments.

Ramos was also a man who put his aspirations for a conventional family life aside and instead dedicated his life to journalism and helping to advance the lives of Latinos.

After his graduation from the Cal Poly Journalism Department in 1969, Ramos spent 25 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief and columnist at the Los Angeles Times.

But first he went to Vietnam.

Ramos joined the war effort in 1970, serving as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

From Oklahoma to Kansas to West Germany, he was ultimately sent to the Quang Ngai province in South Vietnam. In 1971, Ramos saw combat duty as an artillery forward observer assigned to infantry troops and became a first lieutenant fire direction officer to support infantry troop movements.

Ramos said his service to his country and the Purple Heart he was awarded after suffering a leg wound were his greatest achievements.

As a Vietnam Vet, Ramos joined the Los Angeles Times in 1978 and went on to win three Pulitzer Prizes during his career with the newspaper, which ended in 2003.

“George was particularly dedicated during his career to mentoring young Latinos and people of color to help them break into journalism, and he was a reporter who loved being a reporter and then tried to pass that on to students when he went into teaching,” said Bob Rawitch, fellow reporter and Ramos’ former editor at the Times.

Ramos made history with his first Pulitzer Prize in 1984, becoming the first Latino journalist ever to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Meritorious Public Service.

As co-editor and reporter, Ramos was commended for leading a team of Latino journalists that produced a three-week series of stories about the roots, lives and aspirations of the 3 million Latinos who lived in California’s 13 southern counties.

Then in 1993, Ramos took home his second Pulitzer Prize with the Los Angeles Times, this time for on-the-spot reporting on the riots that followed the verdicts in the Rodney King beating case.

Ramos wrote a first-person column about being accosted by a gun-wielding rioter on the first night of the uprising in Los Angles.

In 1995, Ramos was recognized a third time with a prestigious Pulitzer Prize for on-the-spot reporting of the Northridge earthquake that hit metropolitan Los Angeles in January of 1994.

The renowned journalist returned to the place he made his start in 2003 by taking the role of Cal Poly Journalism Department Chair.

His sense of humor seemed cunning at times as he often saved it for the serious moments, leaving a keen impression on those who knew him. As a sitting journalism professor at his time of death, Ramos nurtured many students, including much of the CalCoastNews team, during his time as a teacher and a department chief.

In 2007, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists inducted Ramos into its hall of fame for being an industry pioneer whose efforts had resulted in a greater number of Latinos entering the journalism profession and for helping improve news coverage of the nation’s Latino community.

In recent years Ramos lost his mother. His father had passed away years before. He is survived by his brother Dan Ramos.

The CalCoastNews team is deeply saddened by the loss of its beloved editor and a great icon in journalism.

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Very sorry for your loss at your organization. He sounds like he was a good man.

My condolences to his brother, friends, and the staff at Cal Coast News. This site has been a great contribution to this community and I hope it continues its great work in the future. Please let us know if there is anything that is needed to ensure that the goals of George Ramos are achieved and that Cal Coast continues to grow and serve the interests of the people in this community.

This is just terrible, such a great man and so young, my heart and sympathy go out to Cal Coast and his brother, my condolences.

I had the pleasure of working briefly on a project with George Ramos. I say briefly, because once we had everything together, we found that we needed some legal and technical advice from the experts in the field. George suggested we get on the phone, milk our contacts, and see what we could get. We did and ended up talking to the US Copyright Office and other experts around the US. We finished our part of the project in a matter of hours instead of the projected 3 months, and I got to see George in action. Great guy. He will be missed.

I wish I had known Mr. Ramos. RIP.

Karen – My condolences. He was a good newspaper man, a decent field reporter and a brilliant columnist. His point of view in the public dialog will be missed.

I read him early in his career with the LAT and thought him horribly biased. Later I found him measured as he grew beyond race issues. Rest in peace good servant. You have given much more than taken.

I listened this afternoon, and only then did I realize the way in which you, Karen, were involved as part of this story. .It must have been a very difficult experience for you.

I only knew George through the times that I had listened as you and he talked with Dave Congalton about your stories. I could tell that he was a man with extraordinary powers of discernment – going for the heart of a story, checking facts, and covering all the bases. As I learned about his life in today’s coverage (and the LA Times obituary), I wish even more that I had met him and gotten to know him.

My deep condolences to you and your colleagues.

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 Cal Poly. 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 then 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 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 was known for its engineers and ag, but George made sure we journalism kids 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, especially the time we went to Jacalito — a dive bar in Lamont, CA. George was there for my wedding and made a point to see both of my older children shortly after their births. We had not seen each other as much lately, but George was family. His loss has carved a whole in my heart. I miss him already….

Thank you for sharing this…what a nice tribute!

nos solidarizamos con su pérdida

. . . and this eulogy from fellow LAT Opinion writer Patt Morrison:

Thank you, Mr. Ramos