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Ray Bartlett, 1919 - 2008

Pasadena civic leader was friend, teammate of Jackie Robinson

June 28, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

The greatest moment of Ray Bartlett's life was an honor bestowed upon him by the family of baseball great Jackie Robinson, his childhood friend and college teammate. They asked him to represent Robinson in the 1999 Rose Parade as a grand marshal.

He was touched to be chosen to stand in for "my friend . . . while riding down the streets of my hometown," Bartlett, who grew up in Pasadena, later recalled. "That was so special and fantastic."

Bartlett, a longtime civic leader in Pasadena, died Sunday at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood following complications from outpatient surgery, said Bob Bartlett, his son. He was 88.

In 1938, Bartlett and Robinson led the football team at what is now Pasadena City College to a state championship. At UCLA, they were among only four black players on the football team in 1939 during an era when few universities included blacks on their gridiron rosters. At both schools, they also were on the basketball, track and field, and baseball teams.

The same year Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Bartlett became only the second African American to join the Pasadena Police Department, The Times reported in 1996.

Together, the athletes had sailed to Hawaii in 1941 to play semi-professional football with the Honolulu Polar Bears. At season's end, Robinson returned to California but Bartlett stayed to work in construction. Days later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

The next morning, Bartlett and other construction workers were brought to the harbor.

"We had to retrieve the bodies of dead American Navy men from the water," Bartlett said in a Pasadena City College biography. "I saw the USS Arizona burning in flames for days after the bombing."

A year would pass before he could return to the mainland and UCLA, where he had introduced Robinson to a fellow student, Rachel. She married Robinson, who died in 1972.

After earning a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1944, Bartlett was drafted into the Army and served in an all-black unit in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. As a member of the Army Reserve, he also served in the Korean War.

His career as a Pasadena police officer lasted 20 years. He followed it with a six-year stint as a deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Warren Dorn and worked as a public information officer for the Los Angeles County Fire Department before retiring in 1980.

In a statement, L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich called Bartlett a "trailblazer" who "served our country and our nation -- with honor and integrity."

Bartlett was born Oct. 27, 1919, in Los Angeles to Vincent and Fay Bartlett. His father sold real estate, and his mother was a nurse.

When his mother told him the racism he faced would "all change one day," he didn't believer her, Bartlett told The Times in 1996. "But I felt that things could be changed through the system. That's what I worked for."

At 19, he started volunteering at the Pasadena YMCA, which allowed blacks to clean the facilities but not use them. His ties to the group would span more than 60 years, and he eventually served as president of its board.

Gregarious yet focused, Bartlett remained intensely involved in a variety of community groups.

"My dad was always striving for a perfect world," said his son Bob, a former mayor of Monrovia, where Bartlett had lived for years.

"He'd always say, 'You never lose, you just run out of time. You keep playing until the end,' " Bob Bartlett said.

Married four times, Bartlett was twice divorced and twice a widower.

In addition to his son Bob, Bartlett is survived by another son, Rocky; his longtime companion, Gloria May; sisters O'Della Paillet and Yvonne Hagan; and four grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at First African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1700 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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