James Wayne Verdier Ratcliffe

Feb. 12, 1964 to Jan. 6, 2021.
A life of grace and compassion.

Jay Ratcliffe passed peacefully on the evening of January 6, 2021, after an 18-month struggle with cancer. He remained until the end a person of immense grace with a commitment to others.

Jay was born prematurely on Ash Wednesday and came home from Madigan Hospital at Fort Lewis on Good Friday in 1964, defying the odds by surviving his birth. He died on Epiphany. His 57 years with us was a gift we would not have if three things had not happened at his birth. By chance, we had recently moved to officers’ quarters just a block and a half from the hospital. My mother’s water did not break when he arrived at 24 weeks, so my father had the opportunity to carry her down the street to the hospital, and Jay was delivered. Because a neonatal specialist had only the previous week tuned Madigan’s incubators to the latest oxygen-level standards, Jay did not expire from the same condition, respiratory distress syndrome, that took the life of President Kennedy’s premature son the six months before. Jay’s life represented the equitable access to health care we all deserve and he worked to help provide it throughout his career.

Jay Ratcliffe fishing in September 2019.

Jay grew up in Tacoma and Spokane, Washington, attended Whitworth University, where his wife, Dr. Jennifer (née Verdier) Ratcliffe, serves on the board of trustees. Together, they raised their daughter, Eva Hazel Ratcliffe, who recently graduated from the University of San Diego.

Jay fought for social justice as a young man, raising money for the Committee In Solidarity With the People of El Salvador in the toughest parts of San Francisco, Oakland, and around the Bay Area during the early 80s. He walked those streets carrying cash donations and talking to everyone about social justice. He was fearless about this because he was kind and welcomed everyone. Jay’s smile is the first thing his siblings and cousins mention when telling “Jay stories” about the many surprising personal connections he forged around the world.

Jay’s passion was fishing, which he pursued with a group of close friends. He spoke French and worked briefly for the pre-EU continental government in Brussels, as well as at the McDonald’s that sits at the edge of the battlefield at Waterloo and as a hawker for dining and other activities on the streets of Brussels. We lived together in Salt Lake City after college, reading poetry and fiction at night and skiing or climbing during the day, when we were not working at The Pub at Trolley Square to scratch together the price of our season passes at Solitude and $180 rent for a dingy basement apartment on 8th East Street. That time together, as well as when we shared a house in Pleasant Hill, Calif., with my wife Kiera in 1988, shaped us both, bringing us closer after the years we spent apart following our parents’ divorce.

Jay and his new pizza oven, September 2019.

A passionate chef, Jay was a restaurateur and managed Mel’s Diner in Walnut Creek in the 1980s, when Mel Weiss was struggling to keep the business afloat. He later launched an app for recipe sharing, Cookiti, that lives on in various web pages full of recipes. He managed a Waldenbooks, bartended and cooked at various restaurants in Spokane, Salt Lake City, the Bay Area, and Boston before taking his Masters in Public Health at Boston University. He and Jennifer moved there to pursue her doctorate following medical school. They lived in Santa Rosa, California, for the past 23 years, and Jay died only blocks from the iconic Mel’s location featured in American Graffiti, which he pointed out to every new visitor during his illness.

Jay Ratcliffe at Dirty Oscar’s Annex in Tacoma, Wash., 2016.

Jay was hired as a MUMPS coder and healthcare domain expert by Jim Clark on Day One at WebMD, later Emdeon and Change Healthcare, and contributed to the growth of the company as a business development executive for 22 years until he left after it merged with McKesson. Most recently, he worked for Machinify on health care AI strategy and implementation until his diagnosis with gliamatosis cerebri, a very rare brain cancer that afflicts approximately 35 people a year. Jay was always unique.

Food and good company remain, for me, the signature of my time with my brother. Even the bare meals we made in Salt Lake City were delicious when we were together, which is what mattered.

Jay Ratcliffe, Deena Rauen, Steve Brown, Kevin Brown, Mitch Ratcliffe, and Suzanne Brown. Santa Rosa, Calif., Feb. 2020.

His approach to his diagnosis and battle with cancer was singularly graceful. Jennifer and Jay had planned to build a backyard kitchen at their home in Santa Rosa before the first signs of illness and accelerated the installation afterward. We enjoyed many pizza parties and evening dinners in their yard during the first year following his diagnosis. They laughed about how expensive every pizza made in his pizza oven was, but he cooked more than 100 to bring the average cost to about $100-per-pie. Worth every penny. The last time we gathered on the back patio in September, Jay could spend only 20 minutes before he was exhausted and returned to bed. It was the first time he’d left his bed in three months. That day, his smile filled all his guests with joy.

His living will stated that Jay wanted no heroic measures taken but that he did want to survive as long as he could socialize. In December 2020, he lost his ability to talk. When his body stopped providing a connection with others, he moved on. His family cared for him at home and he died there. He was awake only moments before his passing and did not suffer physical pain.

We are fortunate to have shared the time with him, and every moment was a pleasure we will savor in memory. He remained throughout his illness, though he would claim otherwise, Jay Full of Grace.

After his diagnosis, Jay established a scholarship fund at Whitworth that supports international student travel, seeding it with his own large contribution. Please consider contributing to the James Ratcliffe Global Awareness Travel Scholarship.

Geneva Ratcliffe and Jay Ratcliffe, September, 2019.

Jay Ratcliffe is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Eva, as well as his in-laws Paul and Carolee Verdier, his parents Kay and Suzanne Brown and Allen and Marilyn Ratcliffe, his siblings Mitch Ratcliffe, Steve Brown, Kevin Brown and Deena Rauen, his sisters-in-law Kiera Ratcliffe, Cathy Verdier and Sarah Verdier, his brothers-in-law Jim Verdier and Mike Brown, as well as his cousins Amy Ratcliffe, Robyn Ratcliffe Manzini, and Tom Ratcliffe, his nephews Taylor Ratcliffe, Jonah Brown, Caleb Brown, Riley Verdier, and Ben Brown, and his nieces Geneva Ratcliffe, Meaghan Brown, Janae Brown, Becca Ghonim and Jana Verdier.

Jay Ratcliffe at the last pizza party in his backyard kitchen, September 2020.
Jay Ratcliffe and Kiera Ratcliffe at The Spar in Tacoma, Washington, 2016.
Mitch, Jay, and Eva Ratcliffe, September 2019.
Allen, Jay and Jennifer Ratcliffe, Santa Rosa, Calif., November 2019.
Mitch and Jay Ratcliffe, June 1987.
Mitch and Jay Ratcliffe, Sept. 2020.
Jennifer and Jay Ratcliffe, September 2019.
Brothers at the Blue Waters Festival, August 2019. Mitch and Jay Ratcliffe, Kevin Brown.
Jay Ratcliffe with his brother Mitch, and parents Allen Ratcliffe and Suzanne Brown, September 2020.
Jay Ratcliffe with his niece Geneva Ratcliffe, brother Mitch, and sister Deena Rauen, 2017.
Allen, Marilyn, and Jay Ratcliffe, Spokane, 2018.
Jay Ratcliffe with his fishing buddies Tracey and Bob, March, 2020.
Mitch, Taylor, and Jay Ratcliffe, 1999.
Taylor Ratcliffe and his uncle, Jay Ratcliffe, August 2019.
Jay Ratcliffe, October 2019.
Deena Rauen, Kevin Brown, and Jay Ratcliffe, Iron Horse Winery, Feb. 2020.
Jay Ratcliffe with his mother, Suzanne Brown, niece Meaghan Brown, brothers Steve Brown, Mitch Ratcliffe, Kevin Brown, and sister Deena Rauen, Feb. 2020.
Jay Ratcliffe, September 2019.
Jay, Allen and Marilyn Ratcliffe in 2019. This photo was taken a few hours after Jay had a seizure in a Chicago restaurant and his cancer was first seen in a brain scan. He went to meet our parents, who were also in town, before flying home.
Mitch, Robyn, Tom, Amy and Jay Ratcliffe, circa 1976.
Jay, Amy and Robyn Ratcliffe in Evansville, Ind., 1977.
Jay Ratcliffe at his grandparents home in Evansville, Ind., in 1977.
Tom, Robyn, Amy and Jay Ratcliffe in Evansville, Ind. in 1977.

12 thoughts on “James Wayne Verdier Ratcliffe”

  1. Christmas 2020

    Dear Jay, my beloved son.

    In a way, I guess this is a “Go in peace” letter. I write now because it is getting so difficult to dialog in spoken words.

    You have lived a blessed life and made positive marks on the world that will remain. Your adventures as a young man are memorable, even though there are a couple I tried hard to forget (such as riding in that old Nissan Sentra down a curvy, steep Utah mountain highway while hearing its metal brake shoes screeching against metal brake drums). You have always been one to find the great opportunity for good in whatever situation you encountered. I am so proud of you in so many ways.

    You will leave behind an admirable family and we always reach out to them. We look forward to Eva’s adventures as she builds foundation for whatever her future holds. I expect that her life experiences will reflect your qualities; in that she will seize interesting opportunities and explore them fully. You have been a wonderful example and inspiration for her.

    So, go forward in peace. Know that Marilyn and I love you and will remember you with love always. Even through our long physical separations you have been forever in our hearts, and always will be.



  2. Thank you for these words and photos, Mitch. My memories of Jay are full of victimless mischief and good humor. His smile endures.

  3. Oh Mitch, I loved reading your words, and seeing Jay’s smile over and over. Unique is right. My life has been changed for good because I knew him. I’ve had “All Good Days” with this funny, brilliant, talented, caring human. Wishing you peace mon amie <3

  4. Oh Mitch, I loved reading your words, and seeing Jay’s smile over and over. Unique is right. My life has been changed for good because I knew him. I’ve had “All Good Days” with this funny, brilliant, talented, caring human. Wishing you peace mon amie <3

  5. Ratcliffe Family – I worked with Jay for a number of years at Emdeon / Change and always enjoyed our interactions – he was easy-going and funny, but always engaged. I am so sorry for your loss. For Mitch, I too lost a brother (Michael) to cancer so found your recollection particularly moving and appropriate. For Jay’s parents, no one should outlive a child, but the grace of Mr. Ratcliffe’s Christmas letter speaks to how wonderful Jay and your family are. Please know that I’m keeping you and Jay in my thoughts and prayers. I know how difficult this is, but also know how many wonderful memories you all have to treasure. My sincerest condolences.

  6. Jennifer Ratcliffe, Jay’s beloved wife, wrote on Facebook:
    I lost my beloved husband, Jay Ratcliffe this week after a battle with brain cancer. He was my proudest supporter and ally for more than 30 years. A sometime successful fisherman, an avid reader, an expert skier. A passionate chef, a rock climber and even a ballet dancer back in the day. Most importantly, he was a steadfast and loving husband and an incredibly wonderful father to our daughter, Eva Ratcliffe

    He was also a strong and avid activist. A pacifist who refused to sign up for the draft despite that opportunities missed and penalties imposed. He was a staunch feminist, a civil rights advocate and for a short time a hippy commune dweller. His capacity for listening to the quiet, to the marginalized, to the voices too often unheard astounded those around him and taught us how to be a better friends and a participants in the entirety of the human experience.

    His travel experiences in college shaped his world view and were always some of his fondest memories. So today, instead of sending flowers or condolence letters, I’m asking you to donate in his name. This fund was set up by us after his diagnosis at our alma mater, Whitworth University. It is to support student travel, something he cared about deeply. In fact, Jay started the fund with his own $100,000 donation in his will. I can’t think of a better way to honor him.

    Donate to the James Ratcliffe Global Awareness Travel Scholarship:

    If you want to reach out to me please do! Tell me about a memory that you have of Jay, or just a memory about me and you that makes you smile. I can’t promise that I’ll get back to you right away but messages are appreciated.

    Here are various comments from Jay’s Facebook page:

    Cathy Curry
    My first memory of Jay was when I started attending Skyline Presbyterian Church through two years of youth group.. Followed by connecting on Facebook, sharing recipes and memories. You will be missed by all who have crossed your path!

    Deb Riekkoff·
    My heartfelt sympathy to Jay’s family and friends. He was an inspirational man. I worked with him for a number of years at Emdeon/Change Healthcare. He was a wonderful mentor and friend. I feel blessed to have been able to visit him last February before the lock downs. So long Jay, you will never be forgotten!

    Brian C Young
    I’m so sorry we lost you Jay Ratcliffe
    . You were a great friend and even better human. You will be missed.

    Deb Riekkoff
    Just learned of the loss of a great friend, Jay. I worked with Jay for many years, however calling him a coworker falls so very short. He was a truly inspirational mentor. He always had a smile on his face, was incredibly creative and could find a solution to every problem.
    Jay would make a boring business trip more like an adventure, always seeking out a great local place to dine or find a place to taste the local brew.
    Ryan, remember one of the trips to Santa Ana when I asked how close we were to the beach, so Jay loaded us up in the car and we drove to Huntington Beach for dinner, a brew and an evening walk on the beach?
    Jay, you will be missed, but never forgotten. 😪

    Cathy Brown Verdier
    I lost my wonderful brother- in-law, Jay Ratcliffe, this week. This is what my sister wrote. Many of you knew and loved Jay. I will miss him. Praying for Jennifer, Eva and my parents who have been living behind them since 2004 and taking care of Jay.

    Amy Ratcliffe
    My beloved cousin, Jay Ratcliffe, lost his heroic battle with cancer this week. Jay’s generosity and grace always impressed me but his sharp mind and passion for food delighted me. We shared childhood visits to Evansville and had several adult years together in the 90s that we spent eating our way through Boston’s Back Bay. Jay also shared my love for travel, my conviction for social justice, and my ironic sense of humor. I will miss you, Jay. I thank you and I love you.

    Robyn Ratcliffe Manzini
    My heart breaks for my cousin, Jay Ratcliffe who passed away Wednesday, on Epiphany. My lifelong friend with a brilliant mind, a laugh you could not resist, a passion for cooking and great food, a heart that cared for others more than himself, a world traveler, and a wicked-talented skier, he will be missed every day by a large loving family and so many dear friends. His herculean fight with brain cancer, and his peaceful departure at home, as he wished, marked the ways he chose to live his life. Jay Full of Grace, rest peacefully, I will always love you. 💔❤️

  7. Additional comments about Jay from Facebook:

    JJ FL
    I’ve known Jay for over 30 years. He was smart, knowledgeable on just about everything, insightful, and humble. He was a loyal, dedicated husband and friend. He was adventurous and a gentleman.
    I’m pretty sure he discovered the internet (Netscape).
    He cooked for me when I first moved to SF in the late 90s. They let me drive their Miata (stick shift!) until we moved.
    Jay could make a young boy laugh. He could meet him at his level. How unusual for an adult, even when he was really sick.
    We will miss Jay and wish him peace.

    Jackie Kovalik Harris
    WOW! Jennifer I’m so sorry. Pass along a hug to Eva and your parents as well. A favorite memory: we met you guys in 2003 when Eva and our David were in the same kindergarten class. Jay was always extremely friendly and ready with a hug. Stopping by your house every Halloween, even after we moved across town, while we were out “Trick or Treating” and always being invited in to join the party. Love your family.

    Mariko Wesley-Fagundes
    Jay was always so nice to me and even pronounced my name correctly. Much love to you and your family. Let me know if you need anything at all.❤️

    Liz Zirkle Waetzig
    Dear Jennifer-do you remember the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1992? That elegant party we had that was full of hope. Red Sox games, Frank Sinatra in RI and skiing in VT. I loved the period in my life that included regular adventures with you and Jay. My heart is with you. Sending you love, strength and peace. Let’s talk on the phone as soon as you are up for it.

    Kara E. Gillette
    I am so sorry for your loss… will never forget the memories of your and Jay’s gracious hosting throughout my college years. Waking up to the most delicious fresh made monkey bread was the best. He will be missed ❤️❤️❤️ Sending you hugs from afar

    Kuanyan Huang Franz
    Jay’s kindness showed in allowing you and your running buddies to use his mileage/hotel credits for a girl’s running weekend… His love for travel really just keeps on giving, doesn’t it? Big hugs to you and Eva 💕 I’m so happy that students will get the opportunity that he had to see the world!

    Cathy Brown
    He was a was a warm and gentle human being.
    I remember meeting him for the first time when i brought 1 or 2 of my girl scouts to your house to sell cookies to you and Jay.
    He came out and purchased like 6 boxes! My girls were so excited that they made a sale- he only did what you asked. You may have been a lttle upset about how many girl scout cookies he bought….but i knew i met a genuine, generous, all around great man. Little did I know then how close our families would become.

    Jennifer Silverstein
    I remember when this Jay and Jennifer met your Jay and Jennifer. You both were such a fun-loving couple that afternoon/ evening at the wedding. You were busy cracking jokes and I was busy cracking up. Your Jay and my Jay just sat there and played along. How you described Jay is how I think of him, one of the sweetest and solidest, kindest guys around.
    Jay and I are both very sad to hear of his passing and send you and Eva our ❤️ and our condolences. Peace be with you.

  8. RIP Jay. Had some good times through work with you Brother. Showing Mary and I around the wine country was amazing. Even better was the Orlando conference we had and instead of doing Booth duty you hired us a guide to fish one of the Disney lakes. I will never forget that nor you. What a great colleague you were to work with. Much love from Mary and I.

  9. When I think of Jay the understand what “he was the real deal really means”. Because Jay was the real deal. He was brilliant yet humble, fun, funny and immensely kind to name just a few of his attributes. He was so proud of his family and it was a rare conversation with him that didn’t include comments about his beautiful Jennifer. His love and devotion to Eva was so evident and she gave him such joy. We met Jay and Jennifer though our children who swam together and became best friends. We all became friends and had so many fun times together, The Disneyland trip where we stayed at the Disney land hotel and you all rode that crazy California ride that goes upside down over and over, dinners at Tov Tofu, his surprise 50th birthday party at our house that Jen managed to pull off without him suspecting it was anything more that a small dinner for the 6 of us, the night he came down to spent the night with us in Sausalito during our year there, watching him ski down the mountain with my Jim, and of course the endless swim meets …

    You handled your illness with such grace and strength Jay, as always you were an inspiration. We love you and we miss you. Jim, Jenness and Stefan

  10. It has been a blessing to know Jay. I got to know him working at WebMD/Emdeon/Change. He was engaged in everything he did and showed his passion for life in every interaction. Lucky for me I lived in Santa Rosa and was able to enjoy wine tasting, Halloween parties, interesting conversations and our friendship. Jay was a true renaissance man that loved his family and friends and showed it every minute. I will miss you but feel blessed to have known you.


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