Ralph S. Hager, 1939-2006

By Susan Parker, Special to the Planet
Tuesday October 03, 2006

Ralph S. Hager, Oakland resident, retired physicist, and quiet activist for the disabled community, passed away at Alta Bates Hospital on Friday morning, Sept. 29.  

Ralph lived passionately and enthusiastically throughout his life. When a bicycling accident on Claremont Avenue on April 27, 1994, left him permanently paralyzed below the shoulders, Ralph took the energy he dedicated to his favorite activities, (skiing, mountaineering, bicycling, home-brewing, cooking meals with eclectic menus, stained-glass making, listening to and playing jazz and classical music), and threw himself into new pursuits. 

For 11 years Ralph was a committed board member with the Center for Independent Living, serving at various times (and sometimes simultaneously) as president, vice president, and chair of the programs committee. He rarely missed a meeting, and on the days when he was confined to his bed or in a hospital, Ralph made certain he was connected to his fellow board members via telephone.  

Ralph was born in Minneapolis, Minn., on Feb. 5, 1939, the son of Vivian and Walter Hager. Ralph and his identical twin brother, Richard, graduated as salutatorians from Washburn High School. (They had perfect attendance, but both received a C in art which they vehemently resented). The brothers enrolled together at the University of Minnesota, both graduating in 1961, Ralph with a degree in physics, Richard with a degree in mathematics.  

After graduation Ralph moved to California and continued his education at the California Institute of Technology, earning a Ph.D. in nuclear physics in 1966, followed by two years of post-doctoral work. Ralph then joined the staff at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. He remained there for the next 25 years in a big-time, scientific-think tank-type position that his wife, Susan Parker, never really understood, but accepted. 

Ralph was a fervent sports fan, with a particular fondness for the Oakland A’s, San Francisco Giants, UCLA and UC Berkeley basketball teams, and anything to do with his beloved Golden Gofers. After the accident Ralph developed passionate interests in collecting, including baseball memorabilia, film noir videos, antique advertising signage, antique stained glass lighting fixtures, blues music cds, and jokes. Recently he had become fascinated with movies that featured tap dancing, beginning a new collection of videos that are still arriving, via UPS and USPS, to his home. 

Ralph was often featured in essays his wife wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, the East Bay Express, and the Berkeley Daily Planet. Ralph enthusiastically supported her writing, although he was quick to point out a grammatical error or innocent exaggeration. Ralph was a man who liked order and the scientific method. Caps on pens were always replaced, borrowed items returned, scissors put with the pointed tips down. But after his accident, Ralph was able to leave behind his old life and forge a new way. It was not easy, but he never looked back or lamented what he had lost. He only looked forward and rejoiced in what he had gained.  

Ralph is survived by his children, Mindy and Jeff Hager, his sister Phyllis Brown, his brother Richard Hager, his wife, Susan Parker, five nieces, extended family, devoted friends and caregivers.  

A private service will be held in his honor on Oct. 15.  

For a glimpse of Ralph, see www.rshager.com. 

Donations in Ralph’s name can be made to the following two organizations that he loved and supported: 

The Center for Independent Living, 2539 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, CA 94704. 841-4776, www.cilberkeley.org. 

Center for Accessible Technology, 2547 8th St., 12-A. Berkeley, CA 94710. 841-3224, www.cforat.org.