Political gadfly Don Rist dies

Talent resident , known for his colorful caps and penchant for being a political gadfly, died Tuesday from a massive heart attack at age 70.

Rist, who conducted a one-man campaign opposing a tax levy to pay for local libraries, had been a Realtor for more than 30 years and was known for his outspoken but jovial manner.

"I called him a cartoon character sometimes," said his daughter, Shannon Rist. "He was so boisterous and loud and strong."

Even though he didn't hold back on his opinions, he always had a friendly manner, she said. "We've had people calling us telling us there is a hole in the community," she said. "He's so loved in the community."

Shannon, 36, of Portland said her father had heart problems for years and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure about a month ago. A few days ago, he required oxygen to help him breathe.

"It was very quick," she said. "It was painless. He was surrounded by loved ones."

He is survived by his 64-year-old wife, Judy, whom he married in 1963. Her maiden name was Anderson.

His other close relatives include 44-year-old daughter Rene Whyte and her husband, Greg, of Talent; two brothers, Richard and Martin Riley, both of Humbolt, Neb.; and two grandsons, Sam and Spencer Whyte. Rist's son, David, died in 2006.

Shannon said her father's main interests were his work, traveling and his family. "He would be completely happy if we all lived under his roof," she said.

Rist gained some notoriety last year when he opposed proposals to pay for libraries by raising property taxes. He appeared on radio shows, ran ads in opposition and sent out a mailer condemning the levy.

Shannon said her father started out wearing big trucker hats, but when her mother put her foot down, he donned a more rakish style of cap. The hats were worn out of necessity, she said.

"He had a bald head, so he needed something to keep his head warm," said Shannon.

Commissioner Jack Walker expressed sorrow over the loss of a close friend.

"He will sorely be missed by me and a lot of people," Walker said. "He was a genuine, good-hearted, great guy."

Al Willstatter, a former member of the Ashland City Council and one of the original founders of the Rogue Valley Transportation District, knew Rist for almost 40 years.

"He was an icon," he said.

Willstatter said Rist and he challenged the city of Ashland on at least eight political issues over the years and remembers that Rist always maintained a good sense of humor.

"He could disagree without being disagreeable," he said.

Born Oct. 5, 1937, in Humbolt, Neb., Rist was the son of Jesse and Lillian Rist. He was raised in Dawson, Neb., and moved to Ashland in the early 1960s.

Rist worked in the Medco Mill for a short time and as a brakeman for the Southern Pacific Railroad for seven years before beginning a career in real estate.

As a Realtor he was a certified residential specialist, was twice designated as Realtor of the Year, and was honored with the Realtor Image Award. He was a member of the Oregon Association of Realtors.

Rist was active in the community and political affairs. He served as chairman for the Southern Oregon Multiple Sclerosis Foundation Walk-a-Thon. He served as judge for several years for the Ashland Fourth of July parade.

He was a member of the Ashland Elks Lodge and Grace Lutheran Church.

His memorial service will begin at 11 a.m. Friday at Grace Lutheran Church in Ashland. Arrangements are being handled by Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home and Crematory, Ashland.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Heart Association, Oregon Affiliate, Inc., 1425 N.E. Irving, No. 100, Portland, OR 97232-4201.

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