David Mendez

Photographer Randy Ruby documented South Bay beach life

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Randy Ruby kayaking off of the Esplanade. Photo by Mike Avalon

by David Mendez

 

Beloved Redondo Beach photographer Randy Ruby, known for his photos documenting the beauty of South Bay beach life and for his Hawaiian shirts and infectious happiness, died Monday, due to complications from cancer. He was 63 years old.

The announcement was made on his Facebook page, posted by his sisters Elizabeth Ruby and Juliane Higgitt.

“His attitude never changed from the first day I met him, this unmistakable smile with a passion for life he always had, no matter when you were around him,” said local pro surfer and friend Alex Gray. “You’d never know [what he was going through] by talking to him on the phone or by Facebook. He never let that affect who he was as a person.”

Ruby’s bout with cancer was the latest in a series of hardships. At age 21, he survived a fire in his Torrance apartment that claimed the life of his best friend, Steve Hazelton, and burned 35 percent of Ruby’s body. The 2008 financial crisis hit him hard, all but ending his real estate career.

Ruby rebounded in Redondo, after a Hawaiian detour, immersing himself in nature as he surfed, hiked and kayaked the South Bay. He was soon inspired to bring camera with him and document his world.

On weekends, Ruby would hang out in front of his Esplanade home, selling his photos from his garage and talking with friend. A Facebook page and website, created to showcase his work, would eventually blossom, earning more than 3,500 fans globally.

“I just really became aware of the natural beauty around me that I think for a long time I took for granted,” Ruby said in a 2013 Easy Reader interview.

Ruby was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2015, after he noticed a growth on a finger on his right hand. His finger was amputated to prevent its spread. In July 2017, his right arm was amputated. He had been continually undergoing chemotherapy.

He remained upbeat though, insisting he would switch to left-handed photography equipment to continue working.

The son of a local teacher, Ruby moved to the South Bay in seventh grade and graduated from South Torrance High School. It was there he made lifelong friends that stood by his side until his final days.

“He was a year behind me, and honestly, he was the ultimate surfer boy,” said Monica Berg. “He was everything you thought a surfer boy was: good looks, curly hair, well-tanned, funny, but the nicest guy in the world.”

Berg’s brother, Mike Meehan, was good friends with Ruby as well — the two worked together at Howard’s Market in Riviera Village. After Meehan’s passing, Ruby honored his friend by naming a photo after him: Mike’s Journey.

“It’s dusk, the end of the day, and there are two boys walking out of the ocean with their boards,” Berg said. “I couldn’t believe he did that — it was so gracious of him, and that’s who Randy was.”

Local surfers began to see Ruby as an elemental: sand, sun, surf, and Randy Ruby.

“After a good ride, I’d look and he’d literally be jumping up and down,” Gray said. “Whether it was a memorable ride for me or not, the fact that he was there and how stoked he was always uplifted my day and my session.”

Torrance local Ed Solt remembered Ruby from his own Junior Lifeguard days.

“There was always this awfully bronze man, with his Hawaiian shirt open, full of stoke,” Solt said. “Randy just oozed the beach lifestyle…he epitomized why you’d want to live at the beach.”

A friend for 20 years, Sean Carrol would swim with Ruby regularly, often after Ruby’s long hikes.

“Even when he came home after he lost his arm, he said ‘I’m looking forward to this’ — he was just so upbeat,” Carrol said. “He spent a lot of time on the water, paddling out two miles just to get that photo.”

In many ways, Ruby’s friends were his life. They were there when loose soil caused him to fall down a Palos Verdes cliff during a hike, shattering his leg in the process. He was stranded for hours until he was able to call friend Mary Larson, who called emergency services.

“I thought that’d be the end of Randy — that he’d be sitting in a chair the rest of his life,” said friend Gigi Gonzales, who also had known him since high school. “I was dead wrong. He was kayaking, heading up the hill again, [cancer] was one of those things…he’d proven them wrong before.”

In July, his friends — dubbing themselves “Team Randy” — opened his garage once again to sell prints and postcards of his photos; Gray donated a signed surfboard to the cause, as well. The sale raised more than $10,000. A GoFundMe campaign raised another $20,000.

But Ruby’s friends were good for more than just money.

“Maybe a dozen people would go by and bring him dinner on a Saturday. It just cracks me up when I can tell it’s not their first time doing it,” said Gonzales, who would help Ruby with trips to appointments and errands. “I’ve enjoyed being with him and spending time with him, chemo and all.”

According to Ruby’s friends, an unrelated illness forced him to temporarily halt chemotherapy for nearly two months. During that time, cancer spread to his spine. By last week, he was receiving in-home hospice care; his shades were drawn open to see the sunset.

Since word of Ruby’s death spread, dozens of tributes have funneled onto his Facebook page. Almost every post includes a piece of his art, though some feature him as he’ll be remembered by many: Wearing a Hawaiian shirt, holding a camera and bearing a broad smile.

“I don’t know why I’m so lucky to have as many friends as I do,” Ruby said in July. “I’ve done my trips and traveled, but this is my home…there’ll never be another place that’s my home like Redondo, or the South Bay, nowhere else I’d want to be.”

On Monday afternoon, Monica Berg posted a conversation she had with Ruby, regarding his final statement to his friends.

“I’d like to say how blessed a life I’ve had and how much all my friends meant to me. I’ve been able to take pictures of the beautiful life I’ve been blessed to see every single day I wake up. I hope each of you can see the blessings in your day … Each day there is a blessing; if you just look for it you’ll find it,” Ruby said. “It’s not many people who have thousands of people rooting for them right up until the end. I’ve had that and you guys have been awesome. Tell everyone I say God Bless You and I love them.”

This post has been updated to reflect added information.

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