Roam Free, Grover
When I was first starting to get serious about photography, my family took a trip out to Wyoming. We landed under the shadow of the Grand Tetons, and checked into the Lexington at Jackson Hole. We set down our bags, took a walk around the town, and then turned in for the night. The next morning, after heading over for the hotel’s breakfast, I noticed an elderly man flipping through his photos on his iPad. They were good – really good. I said hi, and right away he started chatting. Meet Grover Ratliff: “an old guy, older than black pepper, but thankful to still be somewhat vertical and still breathing.”
He told me about his journey to Jackson Hole – he traveled all over the country in the ’40s, and discovered the Tetons. The area stuck with him his whole life, so ten years ago he decided to pack up and move there. Grover was an absolutely avid photographer – the first picture I saw of Grover was him behind a HUGE white Canon lens, photographing the wildlife out in the freezing snow (not a sight you expect to see of a man in his mid-eighties). He went out every chance he got, photographing everything from birds to bears. What impressed me most, though, was how tech-savvy he was: here was a guy, more than 85 years old, fluent in Photoshop, running his own website, photographing circles around myself and those around him.
We talked and he continued flipping through his iPad, pushing off my compliments, telling me stories about shooting with Tom Mangelson, freezing his butt off during the Jackson Hole winters, and his quest to turn his cane into a monopod. He offered to take my family and me out the next morning, showing us the best spots in the area to find moose and buffalo – if we could pry my dad out of bed before the sun was up, that is.
I was more than impressed. I was inspired. This man was living the dream: moving where he wanted to be, spending his days with his wife photographing one of this country’s most beautiful assets, sharing his photos, knowledge, and (hilarious) stories with people from around the globe upstairs in the Lexington. Nothing was stopping him – not the (FREEZING) cold weather, not his age, not his limited mobility. Grover wanted photos and he wanted to have fun, and he got just that.
Like most good things, though, our trip came to an end. Many thousands (and thousands and thousands) of photos later, we boarded our plane, and we set off back to Philly. No worries though – Grover, naturally, was on Facebook (what person over 85 isn’t, right? Seriously, this man was more up-to-date with technology than most teenagers). Since our first meeting, we’ve been able to stay connected thanks to the internet.
Grover inspired me. He continues to inspire me. Grover taught me what to aim for in life: do what makes you happy, never settle, and don’t let anything hold you back.
As Grover crept towards his 90th birthday, his body began to say “no” a lot more. His cane turned into a scooter, an oxygen tank accompanied him. But Grover said: “too bad.”
There were bears to photograph:
Fields to scooter through (with a little help from some friends):
Photography super-stars (Tom Mangelson) to “teach”:
A 90th birthday to celebrate:
And, at the ripe, young age of 90, a book to write:
On December 21st, a few hours before the sun rose and the morning glow hit the Tetons, Grover passed away. I cannot imagine how many lives he touched, how many people he inspired. I find myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet Grover, to talk to him, and to learn from him. Grover exemplified everything I want to be when I’m older – he had a strong, unstoppable, indelible spirit and a big heart, living life to the fullest way he could, sharing what he had with everyone around him.
Grover didn’t let anything stop him – upbeat ’till the end, always able to put a smile on your face: “My body and I are like a bad old car wreck!! The main frame is no longer repairable, the shocks are gone, the transmission very rarely even tries to go into second gear, and never into reverse, fuel pump is too wore out, water pump is getting in bad shape, radiator is beginning to leak and the paint is rusted pretty badly. Not worth cost of towing to the junk yard for scrap. I am amazed the warranty lasted this long. Guess I should have eaten more carrots and broccoli… but I am the “BLUCKYIST” old man you know. Both blessed and lucky. Mostly blessed.”
I feel pretty “blucky” myself – blessed and lucky to have met such an incredible, strong, warm-hearted man who has inspired me to pursue my dreams, but more importantly: to never, ever give up.
Grover Ratliff, February 24, 1924 – December 21, 2014.
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