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Well-liked skydiver racked up 1,700 jumps

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
OBIT, obits, Obituary: Ralph E. Garrison Jr. of Bloomfield died Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. He was 80.

The number of times Ralph Garrison jumped out of an airplane adds up to every day for more than four-and-a-half years.

“He loved the sport of skydiving. He loved what people thought of it, how kids reacted. He jumped at July Fourth celebrations. He jumped as Santa Claus in the winter,” Bill Garrison of Ben Avon said of his father, who made 1,700 jumps.

Ralph E. Garrison Jr. of Bloomfield died from pancreatic cancer on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in the Neville Island home of his oldest daughter. He was 80.

He last parachuted from an airplane in June.

“He was never going to stop until he had to,” his son said.

Mr. Garrison, who grew up in Troy Hill, was the son of a World War I veteran and barnstormer. Garrison's father, also named Ralph, and his mother, Mary, took their wedding vows in an airplane and — instead of walking down the aisle — jumped out of the plane.

A paratrooper in the Army's 187th Airborne Division during the Korean War, Mr. Garrison married after the war and worked for decades as a salesman for Hiram Walker, manufacturer of Canadian Club whisky. He also drove for ACCESS, a transportation provider for seniors and the disabled.

Ralph and Patricia Garrison, who died in 1995, became parents to six children.

“When my father jumped, my mother would close her eyes until someone told her the parachute had opened. We always lived with the thought that tragedy could strike,” Bill Garrison said.

It almost did on St. Patrick's Day 1970, when Mr. Garrison landed on Mt. Washington's steep hillside instead of at Point State Park. He had to be rescued.

For decades, Ralph Garrison was a member of the Pittsburgh Skydiving Team, which staged jumps at events such as the Three Rivers Regatta and festivals and fairs in the area. He jumped at the Canonsburg July Fourth celebrations for 39 years.

“It was always cool to have a dad who skydived. Other kids admired that,” said his other son, Gary Garrison of Lower Burrell.

In 2003 in Lake Wales, Fla., Mr. Garrison was one of 11 men older than 70 who jumped in formation — a record for the number of people that age.

“He was a very fun-loving guy who cared a lot about his family. He had many friends. Skydiving builds a strong camaraderie,” said skydiver Karl Poruben of Reserve, a longtime friend.

In addition to his two sons, Mr. Garrison is survived by a sister, Bonnie Wisniowski of Perrysville, daughters Julie Withrow of Neville Island, Janet Getto of Peters, Mary Cullen of Friendship and Bonnie LoPiccolo of Cranberry; 16 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Maria Goretti Parish, Liberty Campus, Bloomfield.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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