In Memory

Jeffrey G. Ripley

A Tribute to Jeff Ripley, by Doug Valentine

(with contributions from Riefe Tietjen and Dianne Ripley)

Jeff Ripley and I grew up in the same neighborhood, on the west side of town where Pace University is now located. We went to Roselle Avenue Elementary School together and attended Sunday school class at the Methodist Church at 391 Bedford Road. We received our confirmation Bibles at the same ceremony when we were ten years old.

Jeff’s ancestors, on his Grandmother See’s side of the family, had been in Pleasantville since pre-Revolutionary War days. One of the ancestors, Isaac See, was laterally involved in the capture of the famous British spy Major John Andre, on the corner of Bedford Road and Choate Lane. By coincidence, Jeff’s house was near that historic site, on Lake Drive, alongside Opperman’s Pond.

My father knew Jeff’s father. They were both World War Two veterans, although Mr. Ripley was much older than my father and had been a captain in an administrative job, processing homecoming soldiers. Sadly, Jeff’s father died on 4 July 1956 from a cerebral brain hemorrhage thought to be the result of a childhood injury involving a baseball bat.

Jeff’s mother re-married Mr. James Craig, who had three children from his first marriage, with the result that their house was swarming with six step-brothers and step-sisters, two half-brothers, and a steady stream of neighborhood kids, partly due to proximity to the pond, where we fished for sunnies in the summer and played ice hockey and skated in the winter.

Jeff and I sometimes walked together to Bedford Road School and later junior high and high school. I remember he wore black loafers and smoked Lucky Strikes. He had nicotine stains on his fingers, which I thought was very cool. He had a sort of James Dean air about him. In high school Jeff was into cars, and rebuilt several engines. His dear friend Riefe Tietjen remembered that Jeff had a metallic blue `49 Ford convertible with a four-on-the-floor, which he loved.

“He was really smart,” Riefe added. “For example, he`d quickly read the chapters for a chemistry test for the first time the night before a test and aced it. He was a gentle soul, too.”

Jeff and I lost touch after high school and it wasn’t until 1985, after the publication of a book I wrote about my father’s war experiences, that we reconnected. Jeff was attending the Methodist Church at 70 Bedford Road in the Old Village, where my father and Reverend Bob Osgood were giving him support. Jeff had read my book and called me about it. We began a correspondence that lasted for several years.

I learned that Jeff had gotten married (in 1969 – on the Saturday of Woodstock) and that he had a daughter, Jessica. He graduated from Syracuse in 1971 and, as his younger sister Dianne told me, went on to get a graduate degree from the New School of Social Research in New York.

It was during that time that things began to slowly unravel.

As Dianne recalled, “Life had not gone well for Jeff for quite some time because he suffered from the insidious mental illness of paranoid schizophrenia. It crept up on him slowly in his early twenties. If you're familiar with the disease at all you know how subtle it can be in the beginning. And it only gets worse. At one point, a few days after our older brother Doug died (at age 31 in 1979), Jeff agreed to commit himself to the psychiatric ward at Grasslands. There he was diagnosed and after a few months released. The hospital had found a "halfway house" at which he could stay and they found him training and a position as a bank teller. We were all happy that he was doing well; but the medications had side effects that he would not/could not abide. And so, as with so many others afflicted by schizophrenia, he stopped taking them. Regular employment was not something he could tolerate easily either. His painting became his focus, his raison d'être.  He used to give my oldest daughter painting lessons. He stayed with various relatives for as long as the parties involved could handle it and then would move on. It began a cycle of travel that would include Syracuse, Rochester, Taunton, (with my mother’s relatives) and Pleasantville. His final "home" was the homeless shelter in Peekskill that was a former motel.”

In his letters to me, Jeff described himself as an “itinerant artist” specializing in copies of the Old Masters and occasional original work, often with a religious theme. He sent photographs of some of his art to me. I’ve attached a photo of his painting of Pleasantville High School.

Jeff was at my father’s funeral service in 1990. He was quite shaken. I didn’t hear from him again until 1992, at which point he said he had been living in homeless shelters for two years. He wanted to attend the PHS class reunion that year, but was afraid of embarrassing himself.

Jeff’s last letter was dated 23 August (I’m not sure what year), and was written in Peekskill. He thanked me for our correspondence. “Just speaking with someone from my past reminds me that I did indeed have a past (prior to the events of the last 15 years) and is a refreshing and sobering experience.”

Jeff Ripley died 29 November 1996 in Peekskill, the day after Thanksgiving and a week after he turned 47.  He had been diagnosed a few weeks earlier with a congenital heart condition. Surgery was scheduled but subsequently cancelled and instead he was given medication for the problem. He died from a cardiac arrest as he was running for a bus.  

Dianne said about her brother, “He was always a very caring, sweet, gentle man of deep thoughts. He was very spiritual, drinking in all of the world's religions and using those parts that were helpful to him.”

Rest in Peace, Jeff.


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05/19/17 04:28 PM #1    

Stephen Schweigard

Very nice and beautiful thoughts about Jeff. He was one of my very best friends.We shared a lot of great times together in HS. Taking a trip to the Adirondacks in the blue Ford I will never forget. Thanks Doug for that tribute. Steve S

05/19/17 04:29 PM #2    

David Gallo

Thank you Doug so very much for your tribute to Jeff. I have such great memories of Jeff, Riefe and I spending hours together at Jeff's house.  After graduating from law school, I lived in my mom's house on Clinton Street across from the High School.  On many occassions on his travels back through Pleasantville, Jeff would stop by and my mom would take him in to let him wash up and have a meal with us.  As difficult as life had become for him, he never lost his laughter and sensitivity. I as you, and all who were lucky enough to have been touched by Jeff's friendship, are all better people to have had him in our lives.

05/19/17 04:29 PM #3    

Thomas Gelsthorpe

Sweet tribute to Jeff by Doug, Diane and Riefe.  I remember him as a carefree lad and kindred spirit with a light-hearted sense of humor, seeming to have scarcely a worry in the world.  You never know what life is going to dish out, I guess.  Rest in peace, Jeff.

05/19/17 06:49 PM #4    

Christopher (Kit) Weiss

Thanks Doug, Riefe and Diane for the moving tribute.  My fondest memories of Jeff have to be our Friday afternoon drives, during one summer, to Briarcliff to "cruise chicks".   Even though unsuccessful (through no fault of Jeff's :)), we had some great times together.  Spending time with Jeff was special.

05/19/17 08:16 PM #5    

Diane See (Kelly)

beyond heartbreaking. Saw Jeff in white plains more than30 years ago. Recognized his dazzling smile, wished I could have helped him but too late. Diane see kelly

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