Remembering Raul Ramirez

Raul Ramirez, longtime director of news and public affairs at KQED in San Francisco, died on November 15. A moving tribute can be found on the KQED website. Raul was also a dear friend of Homelands Productions and a member of our board.

I’ve never encountered a single person with such powerful currents flowing inside, in such abundance: humor, intelligence, kindness, awareness, curiosity, playfulness, personal bravery, professional courage, generosity, grace, decency, consideration, passion, panache, good will, a commitment to justice, an unending humanity, and a profound capacity for loving life. I’m sure I’ve missed something.

Seeing Raul always made me happy. I loved my occasional stays with him and his husband Tony on my jaunts north from LA. With those visits I understood the tremendous range of his intellectual and artistic curiosity, which sank in deeper each time, in part by my perusing his eclectic and fascinating bookshelves. His generosity on those visits was intrinsic to Raul – like when he went so far as to encourage my roars for my beloved Green Bay Packers from his couch. (“Oh, my, Mr. Tolan,” Raul declared one evening after I leapt off said couch upon the completion of a short pass in the first quarter. “I had no idea.”) Of course, that was vintage Raul, and I’ve seen it so many other times: his gift, in friendship, in professional settings too, for making people feel so comfortable.

Sandy Tolan

In January 1992, I was in Washington for interviews with government officials and scientists at the nearby Goddard Space Center for a story that would be the finale of our original Homelands namesake series, “Vanishing Homelands.” It was a program about the ozone hole, set in southern Chile and Antarctica. I had reported it with our colleague Cecilia Vaisman, but I would be handling these last interviews alone, because she had been recruited that month to produce a special public radio series set in south Florida’s Cuban community with a renowned journalist who’d grown up there, Raul Ramirez. Raul was a veteran print reporter, but this would be his first foray into documentary broadcast. Cecilia, an NPR producer before joining Homelands, would be his co-reporter and radio mentor – as, for the previous year-and-a-half, she had been mine.

When I arrived, Raul and Cecilia were also in Washington, where their reporting would be edited, mixed, and produced. Among the many things that struck me upon hearing of their experiences was how Raul had managed to apply the discipline of journalism to a story that impacted him so personally and profoundly. His allegiance to his community was matched by his obligation to his audience. He became an inspiring example to me of how a great journalist blends uncompromising professional rigor with compassion for his subjects to produce the unforgettable kind of reporting we all hope to achieve.

In the years that followed, when I’d be invited to KQED to appear on public affairs programs about my books, Raul and I would have long lunches to talk shop and life. At times when I was struggling with subjects I was trying to cover, I was hugely grateful for Raul’s encouragement, judgment, and perspective. When he joined the board of Homelands Productions, not only did we all benefit from his concern and wisdom, but we were honored to be able to call Raul Ramirez our colleague. He always will be. I hear him still, urging me on. Mil gracias, hermano.

Alan Weisman