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Grover Ratliff’s Indomitable Spirit

rocks, snow, by Grover Ratliff.  It takes an artists eye to isolate the beautiful from the mundane. Grover was good at it.

“Rocks and Snow” by Grover Ratliff. It takes an artists eye to isolate the beautiful from the mundane. Grover was good at it.

Window reflection, Grand tetons, wagon, Menor's Ferry, Grand Teton National Park

Window reflection, by Grover Ratliff. Grand tetons, wagon, Menor’s Ferry, Grand Teton National Park

One fine spring day while out looking for wildlife, I found a crowd of people, indicative of wildlife found. Peering over the edge of the Cottonwood Creek in Grand Teton National Park I saw a cow moose eating the afterbirth of a newborn moose calf –excellent!

I grabbed my gear and headed over to some familiar faces and set up my tripod. Soon after I set up, a frail old man who clearly was in his late 80s who knew everyone, joined the group, and Grover said hi Daryl. Embarrassingly I didn’t remember our first meeting.

Upon Grover’s arrival, my friend Jim Layborn went to his own car to get a camp chair he kept there for when he bumped into Grover at a wildlife sighting. All who seemed to know him showed great respect, Grover’s cachet level was through the roof among this crowd of afterbirth munching spectator, photographer colleagues.

Wagon, Grand Tetons by Grover Ratliff

Wagon, Grand Tetons by Grover Ratliff

When the moose laid down for a snooze we all started back to our cars, one of the photographers tripped and broke their camera. Grover having two cameras, more than he could shoot at one time, insisted on lending the other photographer one of his Canon EOS 7D ( = $1,600.00 ). It did the photographer no good to protest Grover’s insistence, so the photographer acquiesced excepting Grover’s extra camera until they could get theirs repaired. I never again overlooked Grover in a wildlife jam.

A bighorn ram comes up for a better look at Grover at Miller Butte on the National Elk Refuge

A bighorn ram comes up for a better look at Grover

Grover lost his wife of 58 years when he was eighty. At the behest of Max & Helen Kudar, and their daughter and son in law Diana and Tim Waycott, Grover started spending his summers in Jackson Hole as their guest. Grover became the newest member of the Kudar family. Grover filled the hole in his heart with his love of photographing nature. He soon bought a Jackson Hole home.

Grover photographing a bull moose in front of the Grand Tetons

Grover photographing a bull moose in front of the Grand Tetons

My job as a wildlife safari guide and photography guide had me in Grand Teton National Park nearly every day. As I learned to recognize Grover’s Ford Explorer.  I marveled at how often this octogenarian was in the field photographing critters or the magnificent landscape of Jackson Hole. My respect for him grew! I also noticed Jim Layborn often would be driving Grover around. Now Jim is rarely seen anywhere without a critter in the viewfinder of his video camera, yet Jim often made time to take Grover shooting. I then figured Grover could use another photographer to help him get around and relieve him of some of his driving duties, mandated by his nature photography compulsion. I volunteered, then my life became richer.

Jim Layborn creator of ALWAYS ENDANGERED  The Story of Grizzly 399

Grover’s good friend, Jim Layborn creator of ALWAYS ENDANGERED The Story of Grizzly 399

After the best light was over and many of the animals had gone to bed Grover would be up for meeting me for a cruise around Grand Tetons Park. It wasn’t like Grover was sleeping in because he was eighty-eight or anything like that. It was because he had a heck of a business selling photo DVDs in town at his gallery in the Lexington Hotel. Grover figured there wasn’t much sense speculating on freelance photos when there was hard cash to be collected for photos already in the portfolio. The idea that people would pay him for his art made Grover beam with delight. Whenever Grover introduced me to anyone he would say; “This is Daryl Hunter; he is a real “professional” photographer.” I would then remind him: “Grover, you are the only one around here making any  money at photography.”

Grover's front row seat at the bear jam

Grover’s front row seat at the bear jam

Jim, creator of “Always Endangered”  befriended him several years previously after huffing and puffing to get up a steep hill for a photography vantage point where he found an impossibly old man at the top. Fascinated and amazed, Jim struck up a conversation then they were fast friends until the very end.

Knowing that I took people out to find animals and landscapes for my profession, one day he was thanking me profusely for taking him without charge and wishing he could give me something. Jokingly I retorted; “Grover I overcharge everyone else so I can take you out for free.

Grover took electric scooters where they had never gone before.

Grover took electric scooters where they had never gone before.

The truth was, I was the beneficiary of these trips because I was hoping Grover’s indomitable spirit would be contagious. With each passing decade, most of us have a new frailty come up and slap us up the side of the head and let us know they are here to stay. My six decades are starting to stack up exponentially in a way that doesn’t feel good. That said, Grover had three decades on me, and when nature calls Grover didn’t go to the bathroom; Grover went to Grand Tetons Park. That is inspiring!

Grover and his book " Roaming the Wild"

Grover and his book ” Roaming the Wild”

Grover’s ninth decade took away has ability to walk in the field. Refusing to be benched at such a tender young age, he got an electric cart and a carrier for the back of his car. He would then search for, then find a moose or bear, grab his oxygen apparatus and his camera, go to the back of the Explorer, and lower his cart then scoot over to the moose or bear. Grover inspired hope and aspirations that I could do the same when I am ninety

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle, Grover had to zoom in on him.

A publisher named Aaron Linsdau heard of Grover’s indomitable spirit, found him then offered him a book deal, so Grover became an author at ninety years old. It’s a lot of work writing a book when you are ninety, but Grover was up for the challenge. His finished work “Roaming the Wild” was a giant point of pride. Grover Ratliff’s irrepressible spirit shines through during his narrative about photography and life. Grover’s beautiful wildlife and landscape photography can stand-alone, his anecdotes are icing on the cake.

Bettye Ratliff, one of Grovers many blessings

Bettye Ratliff, one of Grovers many blessings

My favorite passage from “Roaming the Wild: “This bald eagle was perched in an old dead cottonwood tree about 250 yards north of Antelope Flats Road. Of course, I didn’t have any lens that would reach that far: I watched him with binoculars for a short time and decided that I could zoom in on him with my feet.” Grover was also funny.

Grover’s magnetic personality wasn’t just for his nature photographer friends of Jackson Hole.  Somewhere south of eighty he charmed what must be one of the best available belles of Texas, Bettye I’m sure was the fuel that illuminated Grover’s spark. The love and care Bettye gave Grover I’m sure was what helped our favorite photographer stay with us for so long!

Tom Mangelson and Grover Ratliff

Tom Mangelson and Grover Ratliff

Grover’s great attitude effected all around him, One day, world renowned nature photographer Tom Mangelsen, a friend of Grover’s, saw one of Grover’s photos and asked Grover if he could have a print of it, Grover beamed and soon had a print for Tom. Three weeks later Tom called Grover and asked him to come down to his gallery, Tom had a large framed limited edition print for Grover. The print became one of Grover’s treasured items, the anecdote became one of his favorite stories. Two days before Grover passed, Tom went to visit Grover and Tom and Grover traded books. Knowing Grover, as well as the story of the limited edition print, I’m sure he lit up like the Grand Teton drenched in alpenglow, at such personal recognition of such a luminary of the nature photography field.

Grover’s son Kurt in a retrospective, reviewing life lessons learned from his dad mentioned this one;

Grover was a good friend, so he had many!

Godspeed Grover, in about thirty years I’ll see you on the other side.

A week before Grovers passing, Jim and I got Grover out for one last shoot. It was a good day we got him onto some bighorn rams at full frame and a huge bull moose - Grover was shooting to the very end.

A week before Grover’s passing, Jim and I got Grover out for one last shoot. It was a good day. We got him onto some bighorn rams at full frame and a huge bull moose – Grover was shooting to the very end.

Moving On

Moving On

I don’t know who took many of these photos, I pulled them off of Grover’s Facebook page, it they are copyrighted I apologize, if you would like a photo credit let me know. Thanks in advance.

27 thoughts on “Grover Ratliff’s Indomitable Spirit

  1. Kobey Ratliff says:

    Thanks for posting this and most of all, thanks for being my Dad’s friend.
    As you know, he was a “one of a kind”.
    I look forward to getting to know you better and spend some more time with you guys in the field when I get back to Wyoming and hope you’ll share some of my Dad’s favorite spots with me when I get back up to Wyoming.
    We are going to have a heck of a send off for him both here in Texas and up there too!
    Can’t wait…
    Talk to you soon,
    Kobey Ratliff

    • Kobey, I was lucky to be Grover’s friend, I’ll be happy to show you some of his places when you come up for the wake. When you were here I went by the hotel to see if you wanted to go take a “look around” but you were already out doing so. I’m glad you got here when you did.

  2. A wonderful tribute. We all should have such friends in our lives.

  3. Debora Ratliff says:

    Oh Daryl, what a fabulous story and tribute to our Dad. Thank you for the story, but more importantly for being such a great friend to him.

  4. Chris Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing this, as if I hadn’t cried enough since Mr Ratliff passed. He was an inspiration, and will be missed.

  5. Christa Delz says:

    I want to thank you for this lovely tribute to my Uncle Grover! I will admit I didn’t get to see him often and many of you knew him much better than I because you could share in one of his passions. With that said, my thoughts and condolences go out to you all that got to know him on that level. May God richly bless each and every one of you to continue on as Uncle Grover did.

  6. Susan Lange Stewart says:

    What a wonderful tribute to Grover. Like many others, Grover befriended me nearly 10 years ago while vacationing in beautiful Jackson.
    Grover has been a friend ever since then.
    Rest in peace my friend.
    -Your friends in Kentucky
    Susan, Erica and Robert

  7. Jim Chagares says:

    This story has touch me more than I can express. I write this with tears in my eyes.

    I met Grover this past spring of 2014. I was at the old barns in the Tetons photographing a coyote den. I only spent an hour with him but it was a lifetime of friendship.

    When I saw him pull up on his electric scooter, with his camera in a basket on the front, I was inspired instantly. We introduced ourselves to each other and I immediately became his student. I have been a photographer all my life and thirty years as a professional but I know he had more to teach me than I could ever give back.

    As we chatted I noticed his camera lens looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for a decade. I asked him if I could clean it for him. He lit up like a candle. “You would do that for me?” he asked. You could sense there was a mutual respect for his fellow colleagues.

    I polished his lens and cleaned his camera. We traded business cards and he told me he as an exhibit on the second floor of the Lexington Hotel in Jackson Hole. He told me he was there every morning for breakfast to meet with folks that came to see his images. I promised I would stop in to see him and see his work. I spent the next several days searching for wildlife in the Teton area but never lost sight of my promise to see his exhibit.

    When I got to the hotel he was not there. My wife and I spent the next hour on the second floor looking at all the images he had on display. As we left the hotel I gave the desk attend my business card with a note on the back asked her to tell Grover we had come to see his exhibit.

    The next day I called home to check my phone messages and had a thank you message from Grover. I could tell he was so excited that I had taken the time to come to see his photography. Several days later he left a second message to thank me.

    Four weeks later, when we returned home, I found I had again missed his thank you call. I never met or spoke with him again. Only that one short moment at the coyote den. Little did he know he had been speaking to me every day since I saw him roll up on his scooter.

    I only hope I can touch someone along the way like he touched me.

    • Jim it was amazing how Grover could teach the teachers. Of course Grover was teaching us about life and attitude. Isn’t it amazing how such brief encounters can have such huge impact. Thanks for you comment and thanks for cleaning his lens.

  8. Cathy Hummel says:

    Thank you Daryl for such a heartfelt tribute to our good friend Grover and thank you Daryl and Jim Laybourn for all the thoughtful things you have done to help Grover get around!!
    You both are Angels in my eyes and have such big hearts!!! Grover has totally rubbed off on you and I know that’s why I keep coming back to Jackson every year is to be around all of the good energy and love from all the wonderful people I have met out there. You all make me a better person and let me know what the true meaning of friendship is!! Thank you Grover.

  9. Thank you Daryl for introducing me to Grover he made a big impression on me in a very short time. On November 11, 2014 Grover signed his book Roaming the Wild for me, he writes ” My next best friend ” I only wish Icould have gone in the field with Grover.

  10. Cinda Benton says:

    Grover was one of the good guys. I met him through Trinity Arts Photo Club and always admired his get-up-and-go attitude. This was a fitting tribute to a dear and talented man.

  11. connie counts simmons says:

    this was a small glimpse into who he was… he touched so many lives with his outrageous sense of humor, his kind heart and his quick wit. All the way to the end he was living life to the fullest. Very few people loved life as deeply as he did and i kknow that Dorothy is waiting to see him with a big smile bright colored shoes and open arms.

  12. Ted Brown says:

    Daryl, thank you so much for the very moving tribute to Grover. We were friends for more than 50 years, first in the D/FW business world then in our common love for the Tetons. He has always proven to be “the best of the best.”

  13. Pam & Jim Behling says:

    Thanks so very much for honoring our special friend Grover! He and Bettye were a wonderful gift to us as we traveled to Jackson Hole to renew each fall. Our children’s summer camp wears us out and the beauty of the Tetons and treasured friends like Grover and Bettye filled our hearts back up. Truly a highlight of ours was when Grover and Bettye came to Medina Texas to visit. We must have asked a dozen times…. You drove all this way? He took pictures of us and our camp. He Made us feel so special. We sat in the Expedition one morning for several hours watching and shooting Bull Moose- a truly  endearing memory. Grover has left a beautiful legacy for all of us.

  14. Greg Falk says:

    What a wonderfully, incredible tribute Daryl to our dear friend Grover. He truly was something “special”, an Angel in disguise! I have many fond memories of this fine man as well. One, while driving Betty and Grover back from the hospital in Salt Lake City, we were approaching Evanston during the winter. It was daylight! I was driving, Grover looked out the window, and said, in the sage: There’s a moose! Of all places for a moose, just outside Evanston! Grover was always looking, he never missed a thing. And, we who knew him, all know, he is still taking pictures!!!!!

    • Glad you liked it Greg, I’m also glad you were there two days before he died, That was a very nice visit we had with Grover, and it is likely the last time he got dressed and out of his room. I like how you went through his book and we talked about the photos. Great story about the Evanston moose 🙂 We will miss him, but it sure was good to have him!

  15. Deborah Fuchs says:

    What a beautifully written heart warming story, that has left me smiling, thank you for sharing.

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