Ray Ackerman, a retired Navy Rear Admiral, advertising executive and civic leader, died Wednesday morning. He was 90.
Ackerman's career included building the state's largest advertising agency, Ackerman-McQueen, and chairing the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. But by far, he took the most pride in having pushed for the creation of what is now the Oklahoma River.
Pat Downes, development director for the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, recalled how it was Ackerman who insisted that the river — a rock-lined ditch 20 years ago — be included on the original Metropolitan Area Projects ballot in 1993.
Downes said Ackerman insisted the waterway, then known as the North Canadian River, served as an ugly dividing line between north and south Oklahoma City.
“Ray's achievements are legendary — dedicated and beloved family man, Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, founder of a top-tier advertising agency, elected leader of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, and devoted man of deep faith,” Downes said. “Any one of those achievements is truly special. But, knowing Ray as I did, he really wanted to be remembered for his many contributions to the successful rebranding and redevelopment of the Oklahoma River.”
In the 2005 biography, “Old Man River: The Life of Ray Ackerman,” author Bob Burke wrote that Ackerman had a long love affair with rivers dating from childhood in Pittsburgh when he swam in the Monongahela and Ohio rivers. For years after coming to Oklahoma City in 1947, he longed to see water in the North Canadian and became a leading advocate of dams and canals to bring the river into such places as Bricktown.
Ackerman was chairman emeritus of Ackerman McQueen advertising agency, which he bought in 1954 and helped build into the largest advertising agency in the state and is ranked among the top U.S. agencies.
Ackerman served 35 years of active and reserve duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve, became a Rear Admiral and served as National President of the Naval Reserve Association.
“Ray Ackerman's passion for Oklahoma City was second to none,” Downes said. “We will all miss his extraordinary vision, determination and dedication to his community.”