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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.