Business and community leader Ray Ackerman has died. He passed away Wednesday morning at 90 years old.
Ackerman started the state's largest advertising agency, Ackerman/Mcqueen, but he also played a very large part in shaping Oklahoma City into the place it is today.
Ackerman was sometimes referred to as "Old Man River", because he was such an advocate for the development of the Oklahoma River. A statue on the banks of the Oklahoma River was dedicated in his honor back in April.
Oklahomans will likely best remember Ray Ackerman anytime they walk by the river downtown and every Christmas.
"We talked BC into doing a Jingle," Ackerman recalled in a clip on his agency's web site. In what may be his biggest advertising coup, his agency created the BC Clark jingle back in 1956.
"It cost us all of $300 back then," said Jim Clark. "We still think we overpaid for it."
The jingle became such a phenomenon, Jim Clark eventually quit adding to his folder of stories about it.
"It's worked our way into the fabric of our community and we couldn't really stop it now if we wanted to, there would be such a public outcry."
But those who know Ackerman the best say his legacy goes well beyond his business accomplishments.
"He was a river supporter before it was cool it be," said Pat Downes who worked with Ackerman for 30 years.
Ackerman was the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce as the first MAPS project was being formulated. The former Navy Rear Admiral pushed to include the Oklahoma River in the project.
"We owe many men and women a debt of gratitude for the MAPS program but I think Ray, in terms of the river had a very special role, and it's one he really, really was very proud of."
"Early on in the MAPS history, Ray was one of a small group pushing for water-based amenities," said Mayor Mick Cornet in a statement Wednesday. "They had a vision for the Oklahoma River and thought it was a great idea. Not everyone did. It wasn't an easy sell then. Of course, they turned out to be right. Today, the Oklahoma River development and the Bricktown Canal might be the MAPS program's biggest success."
Governor Mary Fallin also weighed in on Ackerman's death:
"Ray Ackerman will always be remembered for his civic leadership, unique business savvy and service to his country while serving in the Navy for 35 years," she said in a statment. "His contributions went beyond starting the largest and oldest advertising agency in Oklahoma, Ackerman dedicated his life to promoting Oklahoma City. His work with the Oklahoma River will be his lasting legacy and now with a statue recognizing his longtime advocacy will allow his work to live on forever. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to his family in their time of grief."
"Ray Ackerman personified what it is to be an Oklahoman. He gave so much for so long and asked for nothing in return. His impact will be appreciated for generations. He will be missed but not forgotten," said Lt. Governor Todd Lamb.
Representative-elect Mike Turner, House District 82 issued this statement:
"It is with a heavy heart that I mourn the passing of an Oklahoma legend, Mr. Ray Ackerman," said Turner. "Ray was a retired Navy Rear Admiral, advertising executive and civic leader. I've known members of Ray's family for years and knew of his great service to our state. But I only had the pleasure of actually meeting him when I ran for the state House earlier this year. We became friends quickly, and he was always there to offer his wisdom, culled from his years of advertising experience and community service, whenever I called on him - which was often.
I will always treasure our time spent discussing Oklahoma. His greatest gift to me was his vast knowledge and experience building a better state for future generations. He instilled in me his great love of the Oklahoma River, which I take with me to the state House. His plans to develop the river area are a crowning achievement that other states now use as the model for their redevelopment. I will take great pride in being a voice for his vision at the Capitol. We all have a role to play to preserve and honor this legacy, and this will be mine. My deepest condolences go out to Ray's children, grandchildren and extended family on this saddest of announcements."
OCU President Robert Henry said:
"We learned with great sadness today that our beloved Trustee Dr. Ray Ackerman, a dear friend to Oklahoma City and its University passed away."
"We will forever remember Ray for his years of dedicated service on our board and for the remarkable redevelopment of the Oklahoma River made possible only by Admiral Ackerman's vision. Affectionately known as "Old Man River," Ray led the way for the transformation of the Oklahoma River into a world-class rowing venue. As a trustee, he encouraged OCU to adopt rowing as a club sport in 2000. It was declared a varsity sport four years later when OCU hosted the first annual Head of the Oklahoma Regatta."
"Ray was a great husband and father and successful businessman and a generous civic leader; his absence will be felt tremendously on our campus and throughout our community."
"Our hearts and our prayers are with the Ackerman family."
Ackerman was also retired from the Navy and an advertising executive at Ackerman-McQueen.