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Cortez celebrates teacher Ray Harriman’s life

Cortez said goodbye to beloved educator Ray Harriman at a celebration of life service Friday evening at Panther Stadium.

Harriman died June 6 at age 61 after he likely suffered heart failure, leading to a car crash in Dolores. He was a teacher and coach in Cortez for more than two decades.

As the late afternoon sun began to set behind the bleachers, a crowd of several hundred teachers, former students and community members packed into Panther Stadium on Friday for a memorial service. Five people who knew Harriman shared personal stories about him during the ceremony. People in the crowd were emotional, but the mood of the 45-minute service was positive as Harriman’s friends recounted their fond memories.

After the service, people in the crowd joined Harriman’s family members on the football field to share more memories, embraces and tears.

Bob Archibeque coached with Harriman at both Cortez Middle School and Montezuma-Cortez High School. Archibeque said one thing that struck him most about Harriman was how much he loved those around him.

“Ray was loved by many, but he loved them more than they loved him,” Archibeque said. “We should live life like Ray did.”

Harriman was born March 24, 1956, in Pueblo to Raymond and Geraldine (Zgut) Harriman, according to his obituary.

Among Harriman’s survivors are his wife, Deborah Harriman, of Cortez, son Kyle Harriman of Denver and parents Raymond and Gerry Harriman, of Walsenburg. Also surviving are Harriman’s siblings, Joanna Payne (Carl) and Eric Harriman (Margo), of Pueblo West and David Harriman (Josie) of Walsenburg.

Before he died, Harriman had spent the day riding his mountain bike with his dog at Boggy Draw north of Dolores.

Archibeque added that Harriman was a master teacher and knew how to connect his students to the material he was teaching.

“Students wanted to go to Ray’s class because they wanted to be a part of Ray’s life,” Archibeque said. “Ray loved them all – all kids.”

Nancy Hewitt, who worked with both Ray and Deborah Harriman on the Dolores Archaeological Project in the 1970s, said Ray Harriman “walked in beauty.”

“Ray will always be remembered as one of the best,” Hewitt said.

After they got married, Deborah and Ray Harriman stayed in the area and gave the gift of education to the community. Ray taught history, and Deborah taught visual arts at the school.

M-CHS teacher Sonja Copeland said Ray Harriman had a way of making you strong when you felt weak. She said she had recently gone on several trips with Harriman, and traveling brought out the best in him.

“He was always kind,” she said.

Shelby Smith, who taught with Harriman at Cortez Middle School, said Harriman was known to many as a father figure. Harriman showed students what was possible, Smith said.

“The earth can be a tough place, but it will all be a lot better once we all start acting more like Ray,” he said.

Sharon Englehart taught art with Deborah Harriman at the high school. She said both Deborah and Ray dedicated their professional lives to serving others.

Ray Harriman never lost his childlike enthusiasm for life, Englehart said. That turned into a passion for learning that led him to education, she said.

Teaching was everything for Harriman, Englehart said. He worked hard to defend what would work best for kids, and it was impossible not to feel empowered when walking past Harriman’s classroom, she said.

“It was witnessing hope,” Englehart said. “It was witnessing potential in action.”


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