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LaNaya Ritson

October 19, 1944 - October 27, 2021

LaNaya  RitsonLaNaya  RitsonRetired professor, animal lover, and major Duck fan, LaNaya Ritson passed away peacefully on the evening of Wednesday, October 27th surrounded by those who loved and cared for her. LaNaya lived her life to the fullest and was considered an inspiration to the many students, colleagues, and friends she touched. LaNaya Tamara (Gilmore) Ritson was born in Long Beach, California on October 19th, 1944. She grew up in the loving home of her parents, Eve and Weldon Gilmore, where she spent her youth showing horses.  LaNaya had a talent for making and keeping friends everywhere she went, many of whom became friends for life. In her early twenties, LaNaya wanted to travel the world, so she became a flight attendant for TWA flying internationally.

She also felt inspired to become a teacher and went on to earn a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Following grad school, she became an elementary school teacher where she quickly developed her love for the field of health education. In her forties, she was hired to prepare future health and physical educators at Western Oregon University, where she could fulfill her desire to advocate for student health.

While a member of the faculty at Western Oregon University, LaNaya furthered her advocacy for children’s health through leadership roles within state and national physical education organizations. She served on the Board of the Oregon Association of Health Physical Education and Dance in various leadership positions including President in two separate terms. She actively served the American Alliance for HPERD in numerous boards and committees in the Northwest District and National level. She was an active member of many public health association boards and committees including the Oregon Dairy Council, Oregon Affiliate of the American Heart Association, and the Oregon Division of the American Cancer Society. For all her tireless efforts and contributions to health education, she was recognized as Oregon College & University Health Educator of the Year in 1995.

LaNaya retired from the faculty of Western Oregon University in 2005 and spent her 60s volunteering at public health school workshops and the Gilbert Children’s Museum in Salem. LaNaya is well-loved by the many lives she impacted as a professor, the friends she has considered akin to family she has kept close throughout her life, and her daughter and granddaughter who will miss her greatly. LaNaya reflected on her career with pride and happiness. In the end, she said often that she was ready to get this show on the road and had lived a full life of doing what she loved to do.

LaNaya had a small but loving family life. LaNaya married Robert Ritson on August 6th, 1977. Ten years later, LaNaya and Robert became parents to one well-cherished baby girl. The couple loved being parents, spoiled their many household pets, and took pride in sharing their passion for health education. She was widowed on December 25th, 2000 after Robert’s battle with cancer. LaNaya is survived by her daughter and granddaughter, Ellie and Addie Ritson, who remained close and were able to visit her daily during her last months. Her love and pride for Ellie and Addie were felt by those she was around. Ellie carries on LaNaya’s passion for Duck football, the Oregon Zoo, and education as she seeks advanced degrees in her field. Addie carries on LaNaya’s passion for music, horses, and fashion. As LaNaya, Ellie, and Addie would often say to one another at the end of visits, “I love you as high as the sky, as deep as the ocean, and to the moon and back.”

The best place to remember LaNaya is through contributions in her name to the Oregon Zoo where she has been a long-time donor. There is a bench in her memory near the tiger exhibit that reads: “Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you; to all the wonderful animals that have brought us joy.”


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Sending loving thoughts to Ellie, Addie and friends and students of LaNaya.  I was so fortunate to cheer on her beloved ducks at Autzen Stadium with her.

LaNaya was a dedicated professional, regularly attending the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance annual meeting.  The national convention was an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues from all over the US.  Here she is in North Carolina having dinner with Dr. Judy Ausherman from Cleveland State University, and Dr. Collin Brooks who now holds a faculty position at University of West Georgia

LaNaya loved Oregon and animals.  Here at the beach she is feeding the seagulls from our room.

My fond memories of LaNaya go back to when I first met her at UofO in 1964. Although there may have been  long periods of time physically apart over the years, whenever we reunited it was like no time at all had passed! She was a true sister at heart. I have a cache of special memories of times with dear, bright, fun LaNaya… and those memories will bring a smile to my face. May the best of  LaNaya continue to shine through in others!!

I loved your Mom. She was one of my most favorite customers at South Salem US Bank. We over the years had so many wonderful conversations. She was such a lady. She loved your and hero grandaughter with immense passion. Truly a great example of how to live your life. My condolences to you. I know she will be so missed.

In honor of LaNaya we will be donating $1,000 to Meals On Wheels Portland Oregon Chapter.

Thank you, LaNaya for supporting me in health education. Love, Cheyenne Freeman (WOU 2006) and husband, Dave Ellingson. 

LaNaya was such an advocate and lover of animals. She loved the Oregon Zoo and we considered her part of our family. The education programs she has supported spark hope, curiousity and wonder for the natural world. Thank you, LaNaya, for helping us inspire people to take action for wildlife and wild places around the world. You will be missed!!