Loving farewell to James Curtis Ratcliff

by Christine Ratcliff Lambright

James Curtis Ratcliff was born on April 29, 1934, in East Liberty in “Deep East” Texas, a community of farmers and ranchers founded over 200 years ago by ancestors of the Ratcliffs and several other families, who still live there. James was educated in East Liberty School, built by the community on land donated by a member of the community and headed by a scholar with a PhD.

James C. Ratcliff

The youngest of eight children born to Willie and Nancy Ratcliff, James grew up in a family and community that were self-sufficient, raising their own cattle and crops and governing themselves, allowing no outside interference. Even the sheriff had to ask permission to set foot on their land.

Curious about the outside world, James left home in his teens for Houston. Later he moved to San Francisco, where his oldest brother, T.O. Ratcliff, had settled. After enlisting in the Marine Corps and serving four years, there he met and married Ms. Marbeline Turner, originally from Tallulah, Louisiana.

For more than 50 years, he was a driver for Sunset Scavenger. When he learned that Black drivers were excluded from the offer for employees to buy into the company, he sued and eventually won. As the lawsuit proceeded, James went to work for his next older brother, Dr. Willie Ratcliff, who had a contract with Alyeska Pipeline Co. to do all the hauling of personnel and materiel during construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline terminal in Valdez, Alaska, employing 80 teamsters.

While the other teamsters hauled materiel from the dock to the site, James was the only driver hauling people. For 12 hours a day, seven days a week – the standard work schedule during construction of the pipeline – he drove the bus around the terminal, becoming the most popular man in Valdez with his friendly good humor.

After retiring from Sunset Scavenger/Recology, James was able to devote more time to his passion for bowling. A lady from the league told mourners at the funeral how James’ good humor was the glue that kept their team together as they traveled the country to play in tournaments.

James made his transition on Nov. 30, 2016, after a long illness. He was preceded in death by his father, Willie Ratcliff, his mother, Nancy Ratcliff, his brothers T.O. and W.I. Ratcliff, his sisters, Lou Willie Williams, Lou Cinda Jones, Corene Lewis and Lorene Land, and his daughter, Denise Ratcliff.

He leaves to cherish his memory his daughter, Christine Ratcliff Lambright, of San Francisco, his son, Lenard Ratcliff, of Alameda, his granddaughter, LeCresha Sanford, of Fort Worth, Texas, his grandson, Markus Hoff, of San Francisco, his great-grandson, Jordan Flowers, of Fort Worth, his brother, Dr. Willie Ratcliff, and wife Mary of San Francisco, and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives and friends, including his beloved bowling family.

He will be greatly missed but never forgotten.

Christine Ratcliff Lambright, who doted on her father and tended to him daily during his long final illness, can be reached via editor@sfbayview.com.