The musician who helped bring New Orleans and Louisiana Cajun music to Homer, Ray Garrity, got a proper second-line send-off Monday afternoon. In the New Orleans tradition of a jazz funeral without a body, wearing black and waving white handkerchiefs, the Bossy Panties dance group and the Bossy Pants band, friends and family of Garrity marched from Homer High School down Pioneer Avenue to Café Cups.
“We’re not here for a long time, but we’re here for a good time,” Steve McCasland, one of the founders of the Krewe of Gambrinus, Homer’s Mardi Gras social club, said at the start of the procession.
A potluck celebration and memorial also was held for Garrity on Monday night at the Down East Saloon, bringing to town friends he had met from Juneau to Fairbanks.
Garrity, 53, died late last Wednesday in a 4-wheeler accident near East End Road. He was found dead about 10:30 p.m. June 26 on a trail near Mile 18 East End Road. According to the Alaska State Troopers, someone who had gone looking for him after he had not arrived at his destination at the expected time found Garrity on the trail. Troopers said Garrity had been riding a 4-wheeler on the trail when it flipped. He was not wearing a helmet.
Kachemak Emergency Services emergency medical technicians responded and could not revive him. Garrity was declared dead on the scene.
With his partner, Jen King, Garrity helped found and played in a popular Cajun band, Ray-Jen Cajun. He also received the distinct Mardi Gras honor, Homer style, when he became King Ray after he found the baby in the king cake one year in a lagniappe, an extra party held when the former king left town.
Born Sept. 16, 1959, in McKeesport, Pa., to the Elizabeth Wilson Garrity and Frank M. Garrity, Raymond Garrity was one of 10 children. His brothers remembered him as being musically talented since childhood when he learned to play the piano.
“He could barely reach the keys, and it sounded like something,” his brother John Garrity said.
“At eight he was playing ‘Flight of the Bumblebee,’” his brother Michael Garrity added.
Pretty soon Garrity learned to play the flute, banjo, guitar, fiddle and accordion.
Garrity graduated from high school in McKeesport and got his associate of arts degree in photography from the Ivy School of Professional Arts in Pittsburgh. In 1979, Garrity came to Alaska, first living in Fairbanks. After meeting Jen King at the Juneau Folk Festival in the late 1980s, he moved to Homer. With King he formed Ray-Jen Cajun, a frequent fixture at Mardi Gras balls during Winter Carnival and at KBBI Public Radio’s Concert on the Lawn.
After the procession, friends remembered Garrity in an informal wake at the Homer Brewery on Monday.
Dave Aplin, a member of the Bossy Pants Band, called Garrity a true Renaissance man.
“He could cook a gourmet meal, build a house and explain why this is a good wine,” Aplin said.
His greatest gift, though, was how he cherished and took care of his friends, Aplin said.
“Ray Garrity gave you 110 percent,” McCasland said. “He gave everyone 110 percent. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Garrity didn’t like people fussing over him, McCasland said.
“Here we are, we’re fussing over him,” he said. “We’re fussing over him instead of him fussing over us. … He was just a sweet man.”
Garrity was preceded in death by his parents, Elizabeth and Frank M. Garrity, and his brother, Frank Garrity. He is survived by his brothers and sisters, Liz Boario, Sarah Manning, Rita Garrity, Hugh Garrity, Rosemary Allen, John Garrity, Annie Garrity and Michael Garrity; and many nieces and nephews.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.