David Kenneth "Ken" Ritter, 79, died at his home in Beaumont after a long illness on Sunday, December 30, 2007, from complications of Lewy Body Disease with Parkinsonism.
Member of a pioneer East Texas family, Ken was born in the small town of Gary in Panola County on December 12, 1928, to David and Claire Dry Ritter. He attended Panola Junior College, then in 1947 moved to Beaumont, where he worked until entering the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. He and Yvonne Smith Ritter were married on December 18, 1954, and after his military service they settled in Beaumont in 1956. Yvonne became a teacher and later entered the real estate field, and Ken enjoyed an award-winning 35-year career as a sales and marketing executive with Procter & Gamble Company.
With a natural affinity for people and a desire to serve the community, Ken was elected to the Beaumont City Council in 1968 and served as mayor pro-tem for two years prior to being elected mayor in 1970, serving in this capacity for eight years. In addition, Ken was an active participant on the national music scene for many years. While still a teen, he performed advance promotional work for his famous uncle, entertainer and film star Tex Ritter. In Beaumont during the late 1940s and early 1950s, Ken hosted a popular musical program on KFDM Radio and at the same time promoted live shows featuring such singing legends as Hank Williams Sr. and Ernest Tubb.
During his stint in the military, Ken worked in Armed Forces Radio, and upon returning to Beaumont affiliated with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). In 1956, he was granted the first music-publishing license here, and at the time it was among the earliest in the state. In 1958, his first major success came when he co-produced the recording that took J.P. Big Bopper Richardson to national fame. With two novelty songs back to back, the Chantilly Lace side became a huge hit and sold in the millions. In the early 1960s, Ken discovered the talents of brothers Johnny and Edgar Winter of Beaumont and produced some of the recordings that ushered them toward legendary status in the rock and blues music fields. Later, with famed music business personality Jack Clement, Ken co-produced a Capitol Records album by Tex Ritter, all songs being recorded in Beaumont. During the early 1990s, Ken teamed up with music promoter Joe Carter to form Ritter-Carter Management Corp., which managed country music superstar Tracy Byrd.
During his four terms as mayor of Beaumont, Ken was instrumental in revitalization of the downtown area. Projects included construction of a new police station, a new central library, new municipal offices, the city's first civic center, and development of River Front Park. He oversaw development and construction of Fair Park Coliseum and participated in planning and fund-raising for the Babe Zaharias Museum; plus, acquiring of property for the Beaumont Art Museum and improvement of various thoroughfares and public works.
Ken was a member of Downtown Rotary, Sales and Marketing Executives Club, YMBL, Beaumont Heritage Society and Beaumont Chamber of Commerce. He served on numerous boards and committees, including the Texas Criminal Justice Council, South East Texas Regional Planning Commission, National Board of Small Business Administration, Economic Development Foundation, Leadership Beaumont, being a graduate of the first class, Baptist Hospital Board. U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and he was a former director at Texas Bank.
Predeceased by his parents, his uncles Tex Ritter and B.A. Booty Ritter, and his cousin, actor John Ritter, Ken is survived by Yvonne, his devoted wife of 53 years, son Mark Ritter, daughter Cynthia Ritter, brother Gordon Ritter of Beaumont, and numerous other relatives and friends.
The family wishes to express deepest appreciation to caregivers Thelma Loften, Aundria Bebe Johnson, Loria Pete, Stephanie Grant, Essie Whitfield, Peggy Savant and Lynette Garrett; to Texas Total Care and staff, and Odyssey Hospice and staff; to Dr. Rachelle Doody and Dr. Joseph Jankovic of Baylor Neurological, and Dr. Sidney Marchand, family physician; to therapists Rodney Shaw and Michael Hayes; and to Yvonne's American Real Estate Family.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, January 3, 2008, in the sanctuary of Wesley United Methodist Church,3810 N. Major Drive in Beaumont. A reception will follow the service in the Wesley Family Center.
Honorary pallbearers are Don Cash, Tracy Byrd, Joe Carter, Gordon Ritter, Allan Ritter, James P. Ritter Sr., Jim Ritter Jr., Don Jacobs, Bryan Blevins, Joe Johnson, Al Caldwell, Howard Pittman, Gary Lee Love, Jack Clement and Johnny Preston.
Memorial contributions may be made to The Alzheimer's Association, 3195 Calder Avenue, #200, Beaumont, TX 77702; or American Real Estate Scholarship Fund, Lamar University Foundation, P.O. Box 11500, Beaumont, TX 77710; or Parkinson's Support Group Association, 6660 Woodridge, Beaumont, TX 77706.