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Raymond C. Gardner, 1913-1989



Ray Garner died after a short illness on July 20 at the age of 76. His untimely death cut short yet another adventure in his life. The following month, he and his wife Jinny were planning to return to the sites of early mountaineering successes in the Tetons and Brussels Peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Ray led a life of adventure accented with enthusiasm, energy and a spirit of exploring new frontiers. Over the years he excelled as a lecturer, photographer, teacher, pilot, writer and athlete. As a world-class mountaineer, Ray made many first ascents, including the north face of the Grand Teton, Brussels Peak and Agathlan in Monument Valley. He was the first American to reach the summit of Margherita Peak in Africa’s Mountains of the Moon.

Ray retained his enthusiasm for the mountains throughout his life. His climbing career started in the early 1930s when he was climbing on the Palisades of the Hudson River with a braided clothesline. Here, by chance, he met the great Fritz Wiessner, who gave him the very best climbing instruction available. Ray went on to accomplish first ascents and a career in expedition photography.

In 1935, Ray and three friends from Brooklyn visited the Tetons. One can imagine the challenge, this being his first venture away from the Palisades. It was a successful outing; they climbed all ten major summits in the Tetons! Through the years Ray trained many young climbers, using the techniques of Fritz Wiessner coupled with his own experience and spirit of sharing. In the late 1930s, he taught climbing technique to Explorer Scouts in Brooklyn and in the 1940s to the Kachina Scouts in Arizona. He stressed safety and ethical behavior in the mountains as in life.

A good friend of the Garners, Glenn Exum writes, “I consider Ray and Virginia Gamer to be two of the most talented people I have ever known. They were a team all through their lives and made many contributions to all of us. Ray was a talented photographer, writer, adventurer and athlete. I had the privilege of being one of the featured climbers in his film The Mountain, which was made on the Exum Ridge of the Grand Teton in 1946. Paul Petzoldt and Virginia Garner were the other two. That year we had an abundance of snow and blue skies, and while we were filming, the sky was filled with cumulus clouds. We were fortunate in being able to do the entire film in just two days on the mountain. Blessed with perfect light, Ray never had to pause because of poor light. He had a special talent for photographing interesting sequences and when he had finished, he had captured the subtle character of the Grand Teton. He had a great sense of humor and loved all facets of nature. He assisted us in our guiding, and he and Virginia shepherded the great Philharmonic conductor, Dimitri Metropoulis, up the Grand Teton. Ray said that experience opened up avenues in his later life that were unbelievable. Ray truly loved people. There was a contagious excitement about him, electricity in the air. “In 1946, he, Virgina and one of our Teton guides, Jeff Lewis, were preparing to go to Canada to attempt unclimbed Brussels Peak. Having heard that some Yosemite climbers were using expansion bolts, he secured a set and wanted to test them. He drilled a hole in one of the bolders near our Jenny Lake headquarters and fixed a bolt. To test it, he tied a nylon rope to the bumper of his car and attached it to a carabiner clipped into the eye of the bolt. The bolt held, but he pulled the bumper off his car. He said, ‘Fellows, we are ready for Brussels!’ They went off to Canada and made the climb. The world is a much better place because Ray Garner was here. He was a gentleman and we all loved him.”

Ray served in the Army Air Force during World War II and earned several medals for flying missions “over the Hump.” In 1962, he received the coveted Guild Award for Directorial Achievement for The River Nile, one of eight television documentary specials made for NBC. He also made several other films on Africa, ancient Egypt, classical Greece and the Holy Land.

In 1965, Ray and Jinny went to Idyllwild, California to make a movie film for the Idyllwild School of Music and Art. At the end of the filming Ray said, “This is home.” They sold their home on the East Coast and moved to Idyllwild. “Ray wanted to live and die here,” said Jinny, his wife for 51 years. In Ray’s 25-year association with the school, his greatest contribution was his work with the Elderhostel program, a nationwide educational program for senior citizens. Ray took great delight in teaching and showing his films on ancient Egypt, Greece and Israel.

Ray is survived by his wife Virgina, his daughter Gaylen MacKintosh, his son James “Chip” Garner and four grandchildren. He leaves a legacy more important than his many accomplishments: his enthusiasm for life and people and the sharing of life’s experiences and accomplishments. He touched many lives, an educator in the real sense. He will be missed.

Richard Pownall