Santa Fe homeless advocate, clown made balloon animals for kids at Farmers Market

Former Marine Ray Masterson hands one of his balloon creations to a little girl at Santa Fe Farmers Market in 2015. Steve Terrell/New Mexican file photo

Ray Masterson, an ex-Marine, peace activist and longtime advocate for the homeless in Santa Fe, died Tuesday. He was 65. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Masterson, a one-time professional clown, became known for dressing in colorful outfits covered with buttons and pins and handing out balloon animals to children at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.

A website set up by friends said his health took a hard turn this summer when he was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. Masterson went into hospice care at the Casa Real nursing home on Saturday, friends said.

Growing up in Arizona, Masterson was orphaned at the age of 9 when both his parents died. He joined the Marines after high school, he said in a 2015 interview.

“What does an orphan do for a credit line?” he said. “Who co-signs for an orphan? I mean, for a lot of years, I couldn’t get a credit card when I should have been building a credit line. … Well, it’s who I am. It’s your experiences in life that build your character. … You know, the only thing that really matters is character.”

After his hitch in the military, Masterson worked as a rodeo clown. After about six years on the rodeo circuit, Masterson said, he went into traditional clowning, joining Circus Vargas, where he worked for about four years. After working for other circuses, he began working independently, performing at children’s birthday parties and street busking.

Masterson moved to Santa Fe in 1999. At the Farmers Market, he never charged for the balloon animals he created — and was known to replace any that popped. But he kept a tip jar at his feet, beneath his sign that said, “Blow up balloons, not people.”

“I’m semiretired, disabled,” Masterson told a reporter. “It keeps me from watching too much TV on a Saturday. … It’s just a little extra income.”

Formerly homeless, Masterson has served on the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force to End Homelessness and, according to other advocates for homeless people, was instrumental in creating the Interfaith Community Shelter Group at the old Pete’s Pets building on Cerrillos Road.

“He was a great advocate for the homeless,” said Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “He had been homeless himself, but once he got housed, he began working hard to help others who didn’t have homes.”

“Ray worked really hard for the homeless,” said Paige Kitson, another local advocate for the homeless. “The thing I really liked about Ray is that there was never any B.S. with him. He’d always speak his mind.”

Joseph Jordan-Berenis, executive director of Interfaith Community Shelter, said Tuesday, “Ray was on the shelter board before I started working here. He would still drop into the shelter. He was tireless.” Jordan-Berenis said Masterson “was always advocating that we stay open all year for everyone.”

The shelter is open for all during the winter months but only houses women and children during the summer.

“I’d tell him, ‘We’re working on it,’ ” Jordan-Berenis said.

Masterson also was a member of Veterans for Peace. Daniel Craig, president of the Santa Fe chapter, said Masterson for years joined their weekly Friday vigil at the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road. “He was a wonderful guy,” Craig said.

Masterson became a minister with Santa Fe Street Ministries ande attended services at Unitarian Universalist Santa Fe Church.

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