Ralston worked as a student assistant for Pappy, coached high school for five years after his graduation in 1950 and then joined Waldorf's last staff at Cal in 1956. He stayed on for two years after Pappy left, then became the head coach at Utah State in 1959. In four seasons there Ralston had a 31-11-1 record, with two bowl appearances—the Sun and the Gotham—and coached such future NFL stars as Merlin Olsen and Len Rohde. He left for Stanford in 1963 and stayed for nine productive seasons, winning twice in the Rose Bowl, coaching a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jim Plunkett and including among his assistants an ambitious young coach named Bill Walsh.
The Stanford years were among Ralston's happiest. His three children—the twins were 14 months older than Larry—were all at Woodside High School, where Larry distinguished himself as a swimmer and a tennis player. He was a ball boy for his father's Stanford team, but after playing freshman football at Woodside, he went to John and said, tears in his eyes, "Dad, I just don't want to play football." Ralston hid his disappointment. "Well, then, don't," he said.
"Larry was great at individual sports," Ralston says. "He took pride in his physical condition. But it's funny. When I was raised, team sports were everything. Teamwork was considered vital. World War II was all about teamwork."
When Ralston accepted the Denver Bronco job in 1972, Larry enrolled soon afterward at the University of Colorado in nearby Boulder, pledging his father's old fraternity, Sigma Nu. Ralston was delighted. "Sometimes he'd bring the whole shooting match from Boulder for games and parties afterward in our house," Ralston says. He laughs. "I think [Larry] basically majored in fraternity life at Colorado. I know he seemed to have a multitude of girlfriends. He was just a super guy, good-looking, smart. But he surprised me some months after graduation by saying he wanted to go to law school. I didn't think he had the grades."
Larry made it, though, graduating from Western State University College of Law of San Diego and later setting up practice in Los Angeles. "He was a trial lawyer," says Ralston, "but his real interest was international law and politics. He had a special interest in the Soviet Union."
When Larry was 27, he called his father aside in the family breakfast nook in Menlo Park and pointed to an imaginary graph on the table. Ralston remembers the conversation: " 'These are opposite ends of the sexual spectrum,' he told me. 'Here, Dad, is you. And here, at the opposite end, am I. I've been with a lot of women, but it doesn't work for me. My life-style has changed.' He had acknowledged his homosexuality. His sisters already knew.
"I must say it bothered me a little at the outset," says John Ralston. "He'd always been such an open and honest guy. I can't imagine what he must have gone through, feeling he had to hide that part of his life from us."
But Ralston and Patty accepted it. "You just don't choose that sort of thing," he says. "I get up in arms when I hear people say you have a choice in your sexual preference. You just don't, that's all."
The revelation in no way changed the Ralstons' relationship with their only son. His friends became theirs. "When I'd go to Los Angeles on business," says Ralston, "Larry would give a dinner party for me. He had the nicest friends—talented, professional people."
In 1987, while on a trip to Brazil, Larry fell ill with a form of pneumonia. Patty, a registered nurse, flew south on the first available plane. She stayed at Larry's bedside for two weeks, until he was able to return to Menlo Park. The doctors told her it was only a matter of time. Larry had AIDS.