The University of Arizona and its athletic department appropriately honored former McKale Center staff member Ray Martinez last night at the Stadium Club overlooking the football field at Arizona Stadium.
Martinez, 54, served as an Assistant Development Officer for Athletics at Arizona before having to retire early because of difficulties related to rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. An ardent Wildcat supporter, he passed away on March 25, less than two weeks after traveling to Las Vegas to watch Arizona play in the Pac-12 tournament.
You may have seen Martinez on television numerous times at McKale Center and not realized it. He was a long-time member of the Arizona stat crew that is in plain view between the benches alongside the court. Having known him personally, I watched for him and tried to gauge his facial reactions to the opposing coach yelling at the referees.
Martinez, who leaves behind two sons, Danny and Bobby Martinez, was witty and infectious with his ability to not take life too seriously. He was in great pain because of his debilitating illnesses, but he managed to smile his way through that difficulty.
The lighthearted tone of his obituary at Legacy.com fits Martinez’s personality.
“He was optimistic, believing that everything would work its way out,” part of it reads. “He even joked about death and said that on his mythical tombstone, it would state that ‘THIS TIME THE PARACHUTE DIDN’T OPEN’. We’ll miss you Ray.”
Martinez once owned “The Sports Place”, a sporting goods store on Tanque Verde near Sabino Canyon Road. I remember visiting the shop and seeing him in action, working the phone, engaging with clients, moving from one spot to the next in the small shop.
After he was hired by Arizona to be a fund raiser for the athletic department, I recall walking down the hallway at McKale Center and hearing Ray yell, “Javier get over here!” He waved me over to his office and told me to have a seat. He proceeded to ask how I was doing. I could tell he found his home at McKale Center with how he beamed from behind his desk.
He was so vivacious then, which made it difficult to see him confined to a wheelchair later in his life. While that image of him was uncomfortable for most of us, Ray managed a way to ease our sorrow or frustration with his customary smile and jovial demeanor. He certainly did not want anybody to feel sorry for him.
Martinez was so loved and appreciated by staff members at McKale Center that athletic director Greg Byrne mentioned him in his Wildcat Wednesday blog last week.
Byrne wrote about Martinez: “Arizona Athetics and the Tucson community lost a dear friend.”
Danny Martinez carries on his father’s love for Arizona athletics, working at the school’s media relations department. He serves as a liaison between the media and Mike Candrea’s softball program.
Although Ray did not get his lifelong wish of seeing Arizona play in the Rose Bowl, his spirit will carry on with Danny and Bobby as they continue to cheer on the Wildcats.
Ray’s good friend, Jay Gonzales, a Tucson businessman and former Arizona Daily Star sports reporter, set up a Facebook page in honor of Ray titled “Friends of Ray Martinez”.