UPDATE: Ramirez Upset, Exhausted After NAHJ Conference, According to Wife and M.E.

By: Joe Strupp Richard Ramirez, the San Jose Mercury News staffer who apparently committed suicide last week, was troubled just days before his death by personal problems and had told editors he would not be in the office on Wednesday, the day he was found dead in his backyard from a stab wound.

Managing Editor David Satterfield, a six-year veteran of the paper, said he had several lengthy conversations with Ramirez on June 18 and 19, just days after he helped organize the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference in San Jose. Satterfield said Ramirez, 44, was troubled by something related to the conference, but declined to be specific.

Ramirez?s wife, Janet Dalke, described her husband as ?under severe stress? prior to his death, but did not know what might have occurred at the conference to prompt his negative feelings. ?He came back from a conference simply exhausted,? she told E&P. ?He was not the husband who left. I had no idea what happened. He was under severe pressure.?

Satterfield said: ?I dealt closely with Rich Monday and Tuesday before his death. We had several conversations and he was troubled by some things. We talked at length about them. They were private matters unrelated to work. We had assured him that he was going to have a job at the newspaper after the layoffs.?

He declined to elaborate on the problems bothering Ramirez, but said they were not related to the ongoing cutbacks at the paper. ?What was troubling Rich had nothing to do with work,? he added. ?He contacted me about some things and things at the conference that really troubled him.?

Several NAHJ officials have said they were unaware of any incidents or problems at the convention related to Ramirez.

Satterfield said Ramirez, who was married with no children, made no mention of suicide or being depressed enough to take his life. ?Not at all, not with me certainly,? he said. ?He told me he was upset and had not been sleeping well in the previous couple of nights. He had not planned to come in Wednesday. He came to me and said he was taking some time and would take few days off.?

Stephen Wright, the Mercury News' editorial page editor, said he also spoke with Ramirez the day before he died and had been told he planned to take at least the next day or two off: "He said he was exhausted. He told me he wouldn?t be able to do anything on Wednesday or Thursday because he was exhausted. I was surprised he didn?t take the whole week off. I said, ?no problem.??

The Mercury News plans to run an obituary in Tuesday?s paper about Ramirez?s death and life, which includes little new information about his death or the days leading up to it.

?His wife and others have said Mr. Ramirez was despondent over personal issues earlier in the week. Livermore Police, who declined to discuss the case in detail, are still investigating,? the obituary read, in part.

Ramirez had been looking for a new job for at least a year, David Yarnold, one of four Mercury News editors for whom Ramirez worked as an assistant, said earlier today.

"There were a couple of times he used me as a reference, going back 18 months ago," said Yarnold, who served as executive editor from 1998 to 2001. "He was a smart guy who kept his options open."

Felix Gutierrez, a University of Southen California instructor who knew Ramirez from his days as a USC student and remained in touch with him, said he had recently discussed new career options with Ramirez. "He was looking for opportunities beyond the newsroom, beyond the newspaper," said Gutierrez, who spoke with him at the recent National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference. "I had a long talk with him, he mentioned there were cutbacks coming at the paper and he might be reassigned."

Yarnold did not offer specifics of the places that were considering Ramirez, but said, "He was looking for a high-end community relations position for public service organizations. Rich was a survivor, that was the irony here."

He said the possibility that Ramirez might have taken his own life is surprising, give that he was able to work as an assistant to four different editors over the past decade. "He constantly reinvented himself in that role and worked with all of the editors in very different ways and similar ways," he said. "He was a very steady guy, very even-keeled. I had to encourage him to tell me when he was upset. He was a very rational guy who knew how to get things done."

Susan Goldberg, who left the Mercury News last month to become editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, echoed Yarnold's view that it seems unlikely Ramirez committed suicide. "I don't know any kind of history that would indicate this kind of outcome," she told E&P. "I did not see anything that would lead me to believe he would harm himself."

Goldberg, who planned to spend this week back in San Jose for moving purposes, said she will attend Ramirez's funeral. Mercury News officials said a Thursday memorial at The First Unitarian Church of San Jose is tentatively set for noon.

Goldberg added that Ramirez was able to adapt to different editors' needs, and in a positive way. "He was a real problem solver," she said. "He had a lot of moves, and was able to anticipate what you needed before you needed it."


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