Gary Raymond Farmer, part of a long-time La Plata County ranching family,, died Thursday. He was 74.
His wife, Jeanne Parks, said a memorial service will be held in Durango at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4031 at 2 p.m. Jan. 28.
According to Parks, Farmer’s parents moved the family from a ranch in northern Colorado to La Plata County in 1942, when Farmer was just six months old. His father, Raymond, then started purchasing property on the western side of the county, toward Wildcat Canyon.
After Raymond died in 1971, Farmer continued to follow in his father’s footsteps, sheep herding throughout property in Wildcat Canyon and Ignacio, as well as other leased land. Parks said ranching was just about the only time Farmer felt truly comfortable and happy.
“And he just worked like a Trojan,” she said.
Friends, too, remembered Farmer fondly, as news of his death came as a surprise last week. John Malarsie, also a longtime Durangoan, said Farmer worked his land “til the day he died.”
“These types of guys are fading away,” Malarsie said. “And there’s a lot of history, and all the rest, that goes with them.”
As a young adult, Malarsie said Farmer loved racing cars in Durango’s “era of in-town street races,” admittedly sometimes getting “in a little bit of trouble.” He also tried his hand at the rodeo, following Buster Webb’s amateur circuit through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
But work on the ranch consumed the most of his time. He’d spend months tending his sheep, with some grazing allotments that extended down to New Mexico and Utah, and even had a working knowledge of Navajo so he could speak with Native American herders.
“He was part of the agricultural pioneer families that settled out here,” said Malarsie. “And he also saw it diminish.”
Over the years, the family had to sell off portions of property. Eventually, around the early 1990s, the animals, too had to go.
“It became more of a burden he couldn’t deal with after a while,” said Parks, adding that Farmer kept some of the older animals to allow them a natural death. “But he just didn’t have much to do after those sheep were gone.”
Last Thursday began like any other: Farmer woke up around 4:30 a.m., made breakfast and bitterly strong coffee, then left his downtown home to visit the family’s pet cemetery out in Wildcat Canyon.
“He went out there every day to mourn over his animals,” Parks said.
Farmer returned around 1:30 p.m., just as Parks was leaving to run some errands. She returned about 20 minutes later, and soon discovered her husband of 31 years collapsed on the floor.
County Coroner Jann Smith said Farmer was pronounced dead on the scene, likely of a heart attack. His body was cremated, and Farmer’s ashes will be scattered at various places, the pet cemetery among them.
His step-son, Tom Jacques, said he last saw Farmer Dec. 26, still displaying the same sense of humor but having physical trouble getting around.
“He was not the most affectionate as a father figure, but after he and my mom divorced when I was 15, he and I still stayed friends, and I helped him out on the ranch,” Jacques said.
Malarsie, too, said he last saw his childhood friend a few days before his death at the VFW, where Farmer would stop just about every afternoon for a drink. He said a group of friends talked about a range of topics, including politics, old friends and current issues.
“It was sort of like an old man’s gossip,” he said. “We’d shoot the breeze, and just talk about life in general.”
Parks said she met Farmer in first grade, and “didn’t like him from the very beginning.” She recalled an instance during recess when the two had a contest to swing the highest on the swing set, and only she got in trouble when the pair stayed after the period ended.
“He was just a stinker.”
But when Parks moved back to Durango in 1979, the two reconnected.
“I just fell in love with him, the cowboy that he was,” she said. “A cowboy in a black hat sitting on a horse. He just was very endearing, had a little boy quality about him that always stayed with him. He just kind of captured my heart.”
“The rest, as people say, is history,” Parks said.
Farmer is survived by Parks, a sister, Marcia Ann Stephenson; a nephew, Robert Stephenson; a niece, Tami Iquinta; a great-niece, Madison Iquinta; great nephews Brayden and Cole Stephenson, both from of Phoenix; and stepsons Jacques, and Brett and Bryan Wells, all three from Durango.