Ray Hartmann: I Love You!

Ex-staffers share glowing recollections of their old boss.

Oct 31, 2007 at 4:00 am

Unreal asked for stories about RFT founder Ray Hartmann — and you delivered. Now, in commemoration of 30 years in print, we proudly present some of the glowing testimonials we received from a few of Ray's biggest fans.

Even if you are a crazy liberal: I heard you all were taking a shot, I mean a "look," at Ray Hartmann. His controversial persona has ranged from crazy liberal activist to intelligent entrepreneurial businessman, as well as a few things I'm not going to mention. I worked for him for thirteen years, and in my opinion, all of these labels are true. He loves to argue. It continues to be one of his favorite sports, and he's good at it. His intelligence is surpassed only by his liberal bent on absolutely every topic but money. His business success would have been much different had his views on money been as liberal as his politics. Conversations with him are often one-sided. It takes a great deal of energy to out-think him, let alone out-speak him.

I think Ray's most pervasive characteristic (which, ironically, is absent in most discussions of him), is his strong sense of loyalty. He has a deep sense of allegiance to the causes he champions. In the thirteen years I worked for him, he never promised something that he didn't deliver. He never treated me unfairly. He never fired somebody who didn't deserve it. He would find ways to keep people employed even when their skills had diminished. He drove me crazy on many occasions, but he always treated me with respect.

Many of us who worked at the RFT when he was the boss viewed our co-workers as family. Like most families, we certainly had our share of idiosyncrasies. But there was a great deal of respect on all sides — respect that had been earned. And we had a lot of fun doing our jobs. Ray is one of those rare men: People who know him only through his public identity feel they know the real him. Many times when I was out in public with Ray, people would approach him as if he were their neighbor. They'd want to discuss a controversial topic and try to convince Ray of their viewpoint. His unique blend of humility, quirkiness and intellect makes him approachable.

I'm a little afraid to actually put this in writing, but when I watch The Daily Show, Jon Stewart reminds me a lot of Ray. Ray is absolutely a crazy liberal activist as well as an intelligent entrepreneurial businessman. He's also one of the most genuine, intelligent, witty and loyal people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Cindy Evens Badamo

Ray Hartmann: Friend of the working man: I've got three words for you at the RFT: Way off base. You followed a fine impulse to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the RFT, but lost your way entirely when you made a blatant stab at soliciting tabloid journalism to slam its founder. Sadly, this says a lot more about the current RFT editorial department and its leadership than anything negative you may dig up about Ray. I worked at RFT under Ray for over four years and he was above and beyond the best boss I have ever had (though he hated the title "boss").

I'm disappointed, though not surprised, that you'd be interested in encouraging negative stories, while the positive ones overflow from any of us who knew him. In addition to being a tremendous businessman who built a publishing giant from nothing, his moral character and liberal values are an example to us all on how to treat all kinds of St. Louisans with respect. I saw his generosity in action time and time again as he gave small businesses a break on their bills, even giving free ad space to non-profits and community groups. He treated us all with fairness and respect, doling out sports tickets and concert tickets to the editors and to the circulation folks who distributed the papers.

When Ray sold the paper to the New Times corporation, he even shared that wealth by writing large personal checks to each and every RFT employee. It was not something he had to do, but it was a reflection of his superior values and his devotion to his staff. In an age of hysterical media and divisive, simplistic political debate, you at the RFT would do well to look over your shoulders to the integrity of leadership that gave birth to the paper and its mission — and maybe learn a thing or two. Those of us who really knew Ray will remember him for who he is: an exceptional entrepreneur who poured his hard work, brains, integrity, charisma and heart into a business that was always more than a business. It was a dynamic, fun, inspiring place to work that I'll never forget. As for those of you who might write in with tawdry stories or jealous snipes, here are three more words: shame on you.
Julie Whitelock

Ray Hartmann: He's loyal to dogs, too: I was the editor to Ray's publisher for a couple of years during the early '80s. Here are some recollections: I first met Ray at the University of Missouri student newspaper. We became friends and after a few years had gone by, he gave me a chance to edit the newspaper in its infancy. He had a dog (whose name I'm forgetting) that had spine surgery and pulled itself around his apartment. He remained loyal to that dog until the very end. His personal life was largely in boxes spread around that same apartment. His parents suffered lingering effects from injuries during World War II and Ray was left without them at a pretty young age. Ray, like everyone around in those early days, worked 24/7 to get RFT off the ground. There are many wonderful stories: about cultivating sources and starting the personals section to gain circulation; of being on [Jack] Carney's KMOX radio show (he embraced us and gave us early credibility); of stories about Soulard and that neighborhood's collisions with political interests; taking on the May Company over St. Louis Centre; and the RFT's uncovering the move by the city to change Forest Park ahead of both the Globe-Democrat and the Post-Dispatch.

Most important, Ray had a vision for an alternative newspaper that fundamentally reshaped how people looked at downtown St. Louis. He believed that same newspaper could do good investigative journalism as well as deliver the best entertainment information. He was part of the revitalization of Laclede's Landing. He put his personal fortune into making the newspaper work. He was joined by Mark Vittert, who helped us get through cash-flow disruptions.

Whatever your political stripes, Ray deserves a lot of credit — probably more than he gets — for bringing attention back to a beleaguered city at a time when it needed attention the most. His stands and viewpoints weren't always popular, but they were always well thought out and passionate. I'll never forget his interview with [former St. Louis football Cardinals owner] Bill Bidwell at a time when Bidwell couldn't have been more reviled in St. Louis. Or the time we were being stonewalled by the May Company as they led the charge for the ill-fated St. Louis Centre and were steamrolling small storefront retailers. Ray picked up the phone and began dialing sequential numbers until the May Company CEO picked up his private line to find Ray on the other end. Or the fight we joined — and won — to save Union Station. Long after I left Hartmann Publishing, those stories piled one upon the other. It was an honor to work with Ray and it will remain a highlight of my life and career.

P.S. Note to (your) self on RFT staff: "Gee, would I have this job if it weren't for Ray?"
Donald V. Patton Jr.

Ray Hartmann: Honest as the day is long: I worked for Ray at RFT and still work for Ray at St. Louis Magazine. For sixteen years I have worked for the man and I want to tell you that he is the greatest boss and one of the most honest, decent, funny, trusting and caring people I know. I only hope that this is what comes across when you do your 30th anniversary article. We all have pasts, but I hope that you concentrate on all of Ray's accomplishments in his life, as he has more than most of us ever will. Ray is just a good guy, and I hope that is what you publish.
Dani Toney

Ray Hartmann: He gives presents to babies: Regarding your pending 30th anniversary of Riverfront Times, I have this to share: As RFT staff photographer from 1983 to 1995, I have many anecdotes about Ray — some flattering, some not. I prefer to dwell on the positive for this piece. Ray is an honorable and decent man. He took a stand against the power structure of St. Louis and had a positive impact on many lives. At times, his was a voice in the wilderness. During the early years of the paper, he often passed on cashing his own paycheck so that his employees and vendors would be paid. Even though I was a freelancer, Ray called me to offer his sympathy when my father died in 1987. I jumped on his kindness and asked for a job. When my second son was born in 1988, Ray came to my house with a present for the baby. I defy anyone to name an employer who has done such a thoughtful act.

Ray gave me the opportunity to grow as a photographer, allowing a full page of editorial space for a weekly photo feature. Even when it was my time to go and he had to fire me, he offered me an open door as a freelancer and gave me a gift certificate for $1,000 to The Touring Cyclist.
Michael DeFilippo