Ralph Waite died early this year, but the actor famous for his work on The Waltons got a fitting sendoff months later thanks to NCIS.
Waite appeared on NCIS as the father of main character Leroy Jethro Gibbs, portrayed by Mark Harmon. When Harmon learned of Waite’s death in February, he called executive producer Gary Glasberg and together the two discussed how to properly honor the actor.
“We contemplated re-running ‘Better Angels,’ his last wonderful storyline with us,” Glasberg wrote for Entertainment Weekly. “It felt redundant. Ralph deserved more. He would have wanted us to stretch, to push the story envelope, to leave people feeling the loss of Jackson Gibbs, not just reflecting on it.”
So Glasberg decided to hold a funeral for Ralph Waite’s character, one that brought together a range of characters to pay their respects.
“Every character has their moment to say goodbye,” Glasberg wrote. “Tremendous thought went into the funeral scene. We knew we wanted to see some of Jackson’s old WWII buddies paying their respects. We knew we had to get Billy Dee Williams who plays Jackson’s buddy L.J. to help us, as well. We knew we wanted Jackson to have a military funeral. It needed to be a fitting goodbye for a decorated veteran.”
Acting was only one part of Ralph Waite’s life. Too young for World War II, he joined the Marine Corps in 1946 and served two years before graduating from Bucknell University and taking on work as a social worker.
Waite later became an ordained Presbyterian minister and took work as a religious editor at Harper & Row in New York City. It was there that he caught the acting bug, which led to many roles including playing John Walton Sr. on the popular television program The Waltons.
Glasberg said the NCIS episode was the perfect way to send off Ralph Waite and recognize his amazing life story.
[Image via CBS]