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Jim Ragsdale, longtime Minnesota political reporter, dies


Jim Ragsdale, who covered Minnesota politics for more than 30 years with a deft hand and a great sense of humor, died Tuesday morning at his Minneapolis home from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 64.

Colleagues and friends are remembering him as a great journalist, a gifted writer and a good man. His long career and many talents are recounted in a touching obituary published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where he spent much of his career.

Ragsdale worked at the Pioneer Press from 1984-2011, covering several beats before becoming the state Capitol reporter. During his stint on the politics beat, Jesse Ventura was elected governor. Ragsdale called him a "godsend" for Minnesota journalists.

"Jesse Ventura, God bless him, was something new and fresh, and every tempest, every honest opinion, every stalk-away from me and my ilk was a scene change that left us wondering what was next," Ragsdale wrote in an essay at the end of Ventura's term. "He yelled at me weekly, and I couldn't wait for the next press conference."

Besides his serious political coverage, Ragsdale was also well known for his sense of humor. He wrote humorous pieces for the Pioneer Press, and frequently delivered monologues on Twin Cities Public Television's Almanac program.

One of his most popular pieces of work each year – although written anonymously – was the clues for the Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt, which is held each year during the St. Paul Winter Carnival. He helped write the clues, which are always written in rhyme, for years, although the identity of the clue-writer was a closely held secret.

Ragsdale also launched the Pioneer Press's Friday Opinuendo column, which he wrote weekly and typically ended with a rhyme. The paper collected some of Ragsdale's "greatest hits" here, and published this one as an example:

"Snow emergency rules simplified:

Until the weather gets nice and hot,

Please move your car to the impound lot."

Ragsdale left the Pioneer Press in 2011 to cover the Capitol for the Star Tribune. He was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, and stopped working earlier this year because of his illness.

He discussed his diagnosis several months ago during one of his monologues on the Almanac program.

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Ragsdale was named Minnesota Journalist of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists in May, in recognition of his distinguished career.

Ragsdale was liked and respected by many colleagues and media rivals in the Twin Cities, and more than 100 of them expressed their affection for him last December, a few months after his diagnosis, with a surprise "flashmob" of Christmas carols on his front lawn.

Jim Ragsdale is survived by his wife, Mary, and three children, Ben, Ann and Catherine.

A memorial service will be 11 a.m. Nov. 25 at the Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community, 2201 First Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Nov. 24 at Washburn-McReavy's Nokomis Park Chapel.

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