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Ray Radley

When pedestrians would stop on a downtown Santa Rosa sidewalk to greet foot-beat police officer Ray Radley, it was best if they had some time to spare.

Radley, a philosophical and gregarious man who researched and collected dolls in his free time and most valued law enforcement for the opportunities it creates for meaningful interaction with people, died Thursday.

The barrel-chested old-school former cop was 74.

"He was a great PR guy," said retired police commander Rodney Sverko, who served for decades with Radley on the Santa Rosa force. "And he was big enough to handle almost anything."

Radley had been struggling with cancer and heart disease when he collapsed at his longtime Santa Rosa home.

He was born in Oakland in 1939 and came with his family to the Hessel area south of Sebastopol as a boy. A few years later his late father, who worked in construction with the international firm of Morrison-Knudsen Bechtel, moved the family to Morocco.

Young Ray Radley created a radio station there, developed an interest in diverse cultures and completed his high-school studies at age 16. He returned to the Bay Area and was accepted at UC Berkeley, but a counselor suggested that because he was still so young he enroll instead at Santa Rosa Junior College.

He did. A fellow student, the former Judi Harper, whose family had lived in Sonoma County for generations, will never forget the moment that he approached her in campus hangout called The Coop.

"This guy wearing a green Tyrolean with a red ostrich feather walked up to me and said, 'Lady, I don't know who are, but I'm going to marry you'."

That was 1958. They married in 1962.

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