Exuberant, creative, loved-ﬁlled, sad, tragic
Ralph was truly an unstoppable force. Determined, curious, and creative, he always found a way through obstacles and onto the next adventure. Diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, he did not learn how to read until the fourth grade–but that didn’t slow him down. He developed a variety of hands-on skills outside of the classroom. A tinkerer and builder extraordinaire, he taught himself how to ﬁx bikes and cars before eventually designing, building, and renovating his own home. He continued with school and earned a degree at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado.
Ralph’s good nature and can-do attitude made him a natural leader. People loved to be around him. He had a group of friends who called themselves his “disciples,” and he led them on camping, hiking, golﬁng, and skiing adventures. This charisma also came in handy in his work. He took up furniture sales and became the representative of the Western Slope from Colorado to Wyoming. A few years before his passing, he was the number-one salesperson in his region.
There was a soft side to his charisma, too. Though Ralph did not have his own children—aside from his much-loved cat—he was a mentor and role model for his siblings’ children and grandchildren.
“Ralph was a mentor when he was with my adult children,” his sister Kristin said, “and he was a fun, warm, tender-hearted protector of my grandchildren. He always had a special affinity for his nephews, nieces, and their children.”
Whether it was through giving serious advice or a much-needed hug, Ralph was unafraid to make his affection known. He was open with the vulnerability that came with loving others. At age eight, much younger than his college-aged siblings, he waited eagerly for them to come home and play together. When they left the house without him, Kristin remembers his sad expression. They turned back immediately to bring him along.
“Why did you come back?” he’d asked them.
“Why do you think?” Kristin returned.
“Is it because you love me?”
They did—and still do—very much. It made things worse when they had to watch him struggle with his substance misuse. Ralph lived hard, worked hard, loved hard, and drank hard. As the years passed, his judgment diminished. He became secretive about his usage, but his appearance and demeanor showed the effects. His communication grew jumbled; his appearance became tough and unkempt, with graying skin and constant dark circles beneath his eyes.
“Ralph was no longer living with gusto. He was just existing,” Kristin said. “His disease robbed him of who he was. He thought he could handle alcohol, and it destroyed his mind and body, but not his soul. We no longer have the privilege and joy of his presence.”
Ralph’s passing irreversibly affected the lives of the people who loved him, especially his family. Extreme sadness, hopelessness, and anger plagued Kristin for many years. Now, though still grieving for her little brother, she knows the symptoms and signs of substance use disorder. She can recognize them in other loved ones and is more open to addressing them and seeking help for herself.
Ralph’s sister, Kristin Mawhinney, provided the information for this narrative.
October 9, 1960–November 4, 2018–Age 59
Portrait Artist: Jeremy Hebbel
Narrative Writer: Angela Day