GREGORY DAVID "TOPE" RUIZ 1976-2012

Tope Ruiz

The SXSW staff is grieving over the loss of longtime SXSW Special Venues Crew Chief, Tope Ruiz. Tope passed suddenly on August 3rd in San Antonio following complications from an infection that damaged his heart. Tope joined the SXSW staff in 1996 to help manage crowd safety on the streets of Austin during SXSW. In recent years, his background in urban planning had played a critical role in SXSW's development of a comprehensive safety plan covering all of downtown Austin. In this process, Tope became certified in Crowd Dynamics Management through Buck's New University in the UK.

He is survived by his wife Marianna Ortega Ruiz and daughter Olivia Neko Ruiz.

"I've watched Tope hold back 1000 people just by holding up his hands and keeping a smile on his face. Whenever I'd come across a tense situation in the streets during SXSW, it was always a relief to see him on duty. He exuded calm and certainty, and people would follow his lead. I know his work with SXSW was just one small part of his life, but he handled it with grace, and he cared about the people he was helping. I know he brought those same qualities to all the other parts of his life. My heart goes out to his wife and child and the rest of his family."
- Roland Swenson


"Tope and I grew up across the street from each other. We used to watch the newest Beavis & Butthead while sharing his mother's newest baked treat. The show alone was great fun viewing with him, but through his insistence, always, we'd have something extra to accompany our viewing ritual to make it a better experience. He tried to do this kind of thing with every aspect of his life, which counterbalanced my own curmudgeonly outlook nicely. He kept us busy, entertained, and enriched while I essentially and perpetually played crossing guard for this fun hunting, ageless kid who'd run across any street to make his or his friends' moments better. Without his constant drive for the new and worthwhile, none of our pack would have found our way to some of the greatest and perspective-widening events and people of our lives, including SXSW. I'll always be grateful for getting caught in his wake of boundless enthusiasm. So I thank Greg for where I am and the kind of man I am today."
- Thorr Thompson


"17 years ago, while at a festival outside of Austin, I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Greg although at the time, I only knew him as Tope. I later learned that the head-butt he so generously gave me and others was called a Tope. That first weekend, I saw firsthand his charm and composure hard at work, so a year later when I had the opportunity to develop a crowd management team at SXSW called SVC (Special Venues Crew), I immediately thought of him. Ever since, he has been one of the key members to the ongoing success of the team.He was truly a kind and generous man. He was a colleague and a friend. He will be dearly missed."
- Todd Puckhaber


"Tope could kill a snarling crowd with his kindness and tame any situation with his smile. I'll miss his bear hugs that let me know that everything was going to be alright during the craziest of nights. He was a great leader and I am truly lucky to have had him in my life, both as a friend and colleague. There are no words that truly describe the contagious personality of Tope. His spirit will linger on the streets every year during SXSW and everyone that knew him will relive memories of him for many years to come. You will be dearly missed, Tope."
- Tami Richter


"You know that feeling you get when you're doing work that's really hard, both physically and mentally demanding, and you start to wonder if you can or should keep it up? Maybe you start to question the wisdom of the endeavor at all? That's the feeling that I often get during SXSW, usually just as it's starting... Then I always see Tope. He'll smile, tell a joke, and coax a huge, not-quite-but-nearly unruly crowd that all there is to do is to relax and enjoy the moment, have fun. Maybe not make order from chaos, but make chaos tolerable, livable, the best you could ask for. That's a rare trick. I'm going to really miss him and the magic he made. I'm far from alone in that."
- Brent Grulke


"Tope was above all my friend. He was also part of an elite team that worked for most, if not all of my years here at SXSW. A team made of unique individuals that protected us as employees and our constituents and the pubic at large. If I was going the pick out what part of the team Tope represented, it would be the loving arms of the Special Venues Crew. I never once came into contact with Tope without his arms reaching me first. Wrapping around me tight, Tope's hug was the single most calming gesture in times where calm wasn't easy to come by. He also was a smiler. His smile was infectious. I never saw him not smiling. Late at night or early into the next morning when he was very sleepy and tired his smile only became broader, his eyes would squint tight, to where they were almost closed and all you could see was his grin. I often wondered if Tope smiled when he was sleeping. I am deeply saddened to know I won't feel those arms wrapped around me again, I will miss terribly my own personal happy guru/ body guard. But am so happy that I had the opportunity to hear him gush on and on about Olivia his new daughter. I saw her fathers smile on her face, in his photos he carried with him and I am glad to have seen him and known him in the happiest time in his life, witnessing him becoming a father for the first time. I will miss you greatly Tope. Peace."
- Leslie Uppinghouse


"For so many SXSW staff members, Tope was a man of mystery – a name we heard on late night walkie talkie traffic during music fest. I pictured a tough guy keeping the peace out on the streets, but he turned out to be a classy, soft-spoken gent – more street planner than street fighter. Tope earned his reputation as “good people” and he will be greatly missed."
- Mike Shea


"One of my event tasks over my long tenure at SXSW was to feed the Special Venues Crew before they marched off to the music festival for 8+ hours, and over the years, I grew to love and appreciate Tope (it was a long time before I learned any other name for Gregory). The summer after I retired, in a fit of boredom I agreed to organize volunteers for an Austin Film Society fundraiser. I didn't need all that many so I just put out a call on my Facebook page. One of the positive responses was Tope, saying he and Mariana wanted to volunteer, and how early did I need them. Remember this was in Austin, on a weekday, and they lived in San Antonio. They came, we all worked hard, played hard and had a great time. As they left, they confided they were pregnant; they knew I would be excited for them, and I was. Since then, I have thought many times that any child would be blessed to have such exceptional parents. He was so proud and in love with Olivia, it brought me to tears. You could tell what a great dad he was gonna be by the way he looked at and talked about his daughter. I know the SXSW family, as well as the many other friends and family whose lives have been touched by Tope, will help make sure that Olivia grows up to know what an outstanding man her papa was. I'll miss seeing his special smile and feeling his zen-like spirit."
- Eve McArthur


"I thought Tope was MY work friend until I found out a few years ago that he and my husband, Colin, were good buddies from college. One of my favorite memories was when I saw him with his wife outside of a Food Network party during SXSW. I offered them the VIP badge I had because I had to work and couldn't use it, but I only had one. Tope later made a point to thank me and to tell me that Mari had had a great time. Of course he gave it to her! That was typical Tope, he knew how to have fun and take care of people, especially when it came to his beloved wife. He was the most peaceful, loving person and I always knew I could rely on him when things got hectic. I will forever miss his friendly smile and calming spirit."
- Tammy Lynn Gilmore


"Tope had a smile for everyone and I never saw him lose his cool. We have lost an invaluable piece of our SXSW family and I will miss him greatly."
- Lynda Pyle