• Friends, family pledge to “be like Ray”
By Carey Restino
Endlessly generous. A true friend. A careful craftsman. An incredible musician.
These are just a few of the ways the hundreds of people who turned out to celebrate the life of Raymond Garrity described the longtime Homer resident, musician and carpenter who died last week in a four-wheeler accident.
Garrity’s life was celebrated with two days of events, including a funeral at which more than 200 people turned out to grieve and share stories about Garrity. On Monday, a New Orleans-style funeral procession, known as a second line parade, complete with an extensive brass band, led its way down Pioneer Avenue, followed by a standing-room-only party at the Down East Saloon.
“If only he could have been a little nicer, he could have had a real party,” shouted longtime friend Karen Berger over the din of the crowd packed into the Down East Saloon as musicians set up on stage for what looked to be a festive evening honoring a man who appreciated music, dancing, cigars and celebration.
A piece of tape on Berger’s back read “Be like Ray.”
Garrity was riding his four-wheeler last Wednesday on a trail near Mile 18 of East End Road around 10:30 p.m. when the four-wheeler apparently flipped. When he didn’t return as expected, a friend went looking for him, Alaska State Troopers said. He was found, and Kachemak Emergency Services responded, but Garrity was declared dead at the scene.
Word of Garrity’s death quickly spread through Homer and beyond, drawing an enormous response.
Berger, who helped organize the events, said it was heartwarming to see the turnout for Garrity, but not surprising.
“I was his best friend. And so was he. And so was she,” she said, pointing randomly around the room, noting Garrity’s outgoing and sincere nature. “My goal is to take one of the many things that Ray was and find a way to make it my own. He was so amazing.”
Garrity was known to many in the community as a musician — part of the Cajun and zydeco band RayJen Cajun, named for his partner of 20-plus years, Jen King. The band played all over the state, especially around Mardi Gras, when rooms full of costumed revelers would be found two-stepping to the band’s lively music. Garrity reportedly played a wide range of instruments, from the fiddle to the accordion and many noted that Garrity had inspired them to play music themselves.
He was also a carpenter, who built several homes in the community, as well as worked on countless others. Most recently, he was working on a fish processing plant for the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, his family said.
A musician from the beginning
Family members remember that Garrity was musical almost from birth. From a large McKeesport, PA., family, he was the seventh child of 10, and while his sisters said they plunked their way through mandated piano lessons, Garrity asked for lessons and quickly was playing well beyond his older siblings’ level.
“It was part of his DNA,” recalled Hugh Garrity of Fairbanks. “I remember him at six or seven, pounding away on the piano mimicking Ray Charles.”
He began taking piano lessons at around 9 and within a few years had excelled beyond his teacher’s level of offerings. While the teacher recommended he continue his music study, brother Hugh Garrity said he doesn’t think his brother took any lessons after age 12 or 13. The rest was all self-taught.
Hugh Garrity said his brother was always a character, too. A decade younger than Hugh, Ray Garrity came to Alaska in the late 1970s, after finishing a three-year arts education program. Hugh Garrity remembers that in those post-pipeline days, it wasn’t easy to make a living working construction in Fairbanks, but he and Ray Garrity made it work somehow.
Garrity lived in Fairbanks for a while, spent some time working and living in Hawaii and even San Francisco, Hugh Garrity said, and made friends wherever he went.
“Everyone just loved him,” Hugh Garrity said. “He was such a character.”
Liz Boario, the oldest of the children, who now lives in Anchorage, said she remembers his musical talent was always obvious.
“He could pick up any instrument,” she said. “He was really very talented.”
Boario said the rest of the family wasn’t particularly musical, but there was an uncle on their mother’s side who was an extraordinary musician.
For Michael Garrity, who was three years younger than Ray Garrity, his musician-brother was a source of pride during their childhood and into adulthood.
“Anything he touched he would master instantly,” Michael Garrity.
A best friend to all
There was more to Ray Garrity than a man of music, though. For the hundreds gathered to say goodbye and share stories, it was obvious that Ray Garrity was the kind of man who took his friendships seriously.
“There’s a hole there that will never get filled with a million and one toasts,” said Steve McCasland, following the funeral parade through Homer. “But every time I raise my glass I will think of Ray. I’m going to miss that man, oh my god.”
Garrity’s generosity was noted by many who came to remember him on Monday. And while he had no children of his own, Garrity’s connection with children, from his nieces and nephews to his friend’s offspring, came up frequently. When he talked to you, he really paid attention, and was always ready to carve out time for his friends.
Forrest Gibson said he lived with Garrity for a decade or so in Fairbanks when the young man came to town. While he noted his long-time friend was “amazingly, annoyingly stubborn and frustrating” he was also an incredibly generous person, Gibson said.
One time they decided to bring chocolate to some musical friends in Juneau, but instead of bringing a few bars, they bought hundreds of dollars worth of chocolate and passed it around, Gibson recalled.
Garrity also devoted time inspiring others to play music, Gibson said, who himself was drawn into friendship with Garrity over music.
“He helped so many people get into playing music,” Gibson said. “He would pull people in.”
Garrity’s move from Fairbanks to Homer was surely influenced by the events of an evening shortly after Gibson, Garrity and a few others came to town to play some music. At the end of the night, Gibson asked Garrity if he needed a ride back to where they were staying.
No, he replied, he had a ride already. That was the night he met Jennifer King, who was his partner from then on.
“He fell in love with Jen that night,” Gibson said, adding that Garrity moved down shortly afterward and the duo has been making beautiful music together ever since.
Friends rallied around King this week, pledging support and endless hugs and she and the rest of the community attempted to come to terms with the loss.
Gibson and many others who spent time with Garrity said they hoped to honor him by adopting some of the principles he held dear. His friend had his priorities in the right place, Gibson said.
“When it was time to work, he turned that up to 10 and when it was time to play, he turned that up to 10, too,” Gibson said. “I felt so lucky to be his friend. He was true and honest and selfless.”
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