Ray Cristina helped guide a wide variety of Pitt’s publications

Ray Cristina, a top editor and writer for Pitt’s News and Publications department (1977-1990) who shepherded half the University’s print materials from idea onward in the days when a central office handled them all, died in late August 2022.

Peter Hart, who handled the other half of the University’s publications for a dozen years alongside Cristina, recalls his friend as a mentor and “among the best editors I’ve worked with in my 32 years at Pitt. He was equally comfortable talking with a chancellor, with a faculty member or a student. He also was a talented writer, an avid reader, a humorist, a great storyteller, a competitive athlete from tennis to roller skating and an animal lover, particularly horses and dogs. … Ray was someone who genuinely loved life and lived it to the fullest.”

Another colleague, designer Vicki Dinsmore, saw Cristina’s deftness as a liaison between University departments and his own, when everything from recruitment brochures, admissions booklets, special event publications and theater programs needed to be designed or edited and printed. Cristina edited their copy “if they allowed him to,” Dinsmore recalled, and then directed it to a designer.

“He was the portal through which all the material came,” she explained. “He was very knowledgeable, very thorough in what he was doing. Every job was held closely by him and monitored and defined by him, according to the client’s wishes.

“He worked in a really wonderful way,” she recalled. “He knew what the client wanted but he knew what the designer wanted to do. He would sell the designer’s work to the client, would talk to them in his manner and get them to come around. He had his way of softly, gently dealing with them, and they loved it. They really responded to him.” If, she added, the University department held firm, he also had no problem helping the designer to adjust her design.

“He was very much a rock of the department,” Dinsmore said. “He was looked at as a person who understood, who had the good of the client at heart, who had the good of the University at heart.

"He just never promoted himself,” she said. “He was very gentle, very modest, but he knew who he was and what he could do.”

That included teaming with English professor Edwin L. Peterson on the research for his famed book “Penn’s Woods West,” exploring the Allegheny River and Allegheny National Forest together, and later in life taking up ceramics, including enamel work, and penning two self-published novels.

Cristina served in the Navy (1946-48) as an electronic technician’s mate, then began his career as a staff correspondent in the Pittsburgh bureau of United Press Association (1951-54), joining Pitt’s English department as an instructor for a decade afterward (1955-64). In the 1950s, he produced a half-hour documentary for KDKA-TV, a play for WIIC (now WPXI) and both kinds of material for WQED. He spent another decade as director of technical communications for the Western Pennsylvania Hospital (1964-75), where he wrote publications and scripted, edited, directed and even narrated instructional and PR films, before returning to Pitt in the News and Publications department.

On his retirement on March 1, 1990, then-Pitt President Wesley W. Posvar praised Cristina in a letter as a “talented and dedicated member” of the staff, “especially helpful” in the design and production of several prominent reports, which he handled with “characteristic professionalism.”

The senior officer in charge of Cristman’s department, Mary Ann Aug, recalls him today as “a wonderful guy. We were very lucky to have him for all the years we did. Ray was a canny businessman, excellent editor and creative idea guy, and he was very well liked by all of his clients.”

Another departmental colleague, Patricia White, remembers Cristina as a “wonderful friend” but also a colleague whose desk was so clean and orderly one could only marvel, “Where is his work?”

They kept in touch through Cristina’s retirement in Florida. “I’m going to miss those little emails and talks that we had,” White said. He was still pitching book ideas to her in his later years.

“The man was never idle,” she said.

He is survived by his wife, Deanna R. Kratt; sister Shirley Anne Clarke; nieces and nephew Mary Dufek, John Clarke, Patricia Hurst, Kathleen Zumpone and Cristina Clarke; stepdaughter Jane Heffelfinger; step-granddaughters Raegan Heffelfinger and Peyton Heffelfinger and stepson Richard Kratt.

Memorial gifts are suggested to the National World War II Museum, 945 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130.

— Marty Levine