BY ADDI WEAKLEY
Governor Robert D. Ray, the 11th president of Drake University, passed away on July 8 at the age of 89.
Both Ray and his wife Billie have been connected to Drake for many years. As a schoolboy, Ray grew up in the Drake Neighborhood, attending what is now the First Christian Church, and married Billie, his high school sweetheart, in 1951.
After graduating from Roosevelt High School, both Ray and Billie attended Drake. Ray graduated from the business school and the law school, and Billie Ray graduated from the school of education. In fact, Ray is the only person to have served Drake as both a student and an adult – he was the student body president as well as the president of the university.
Ray’s passion for Drake began at a young age. From the age of six to 89, he only missed five Drake Relays.
The legacy of the leadership Ray displayed throughout his life and the life his wife has lived, and continues to live, are perpetuated through the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center.
In 1997, Ray began to work on Character Counts in Iowa, a nonprofit organization attached to Drake as a grant institute. J. Scott Raecker, the executive director of the Ray Center, said the nonprofit began to question how they could honor the Rays around 2013 to 2014. Part of that conversation included talking to Drake.
“The vision was to take what was Character Counts in Iowa attached to Drake into Drake and the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center as a focal point of Collier Scripps Hall,” Raecker said.
In the stairway down to the Ray Center on the lower level of Collier Scripps, the “Lasting Legacy” mural showcases important locations and symbols from the Ray’s lives.
The proposal to name the center for the Rays was well received by all parties involved, which led to the creation of the center.
“This should be a place that their legacy is perpetuated not just by name, but in action,” Raecker said.
Ray was committed to the vision that civility could be improved if others could get character and ethical leadership right and make a difference in the lives of others.
“Our work is to transform lives and strengthen communities, which is the work we’ve been doing for 21 years [and is] in complete alignment with Drake’s inspiration statement” said Raecker.
Along with his dedication to Drake, part of Ray’s mission was to make an impact globally, which stemmed from his passion for the Tai Dam refugees. Individuals from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam needed help being relocated so they could take on jobs and settle in. Many citizens were outraged and believed allowing the refugees into Iowa was a poor political move, but to Ray, it was about doing what was right ethically and not politically.
When the refugees were seeking asylum, they wrote letters to all 50 governors. However, the only governor to respond was Ray. Raecker said that Ray was driven by his strong faith and the mantra to preach the gospel every day but to only use words when necessary.
At the funeral service for Ray, three eulogies were given, covering the topics of leadership, humanitarianism and family. Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn spoke about Ray’s kindness toward the refugees and how he impacted the Pope when he visited.
“The man who put the word refugees on the lips of a dying Pope and made the shape of Iowa a symbol of hope around the world was Governor Robert D. Ray,” Quinn said.
During his final days, Ray addressed his life’s works and explained the way he believed others should live their lives.
“Let your light shine. Everyone can do something and make a difference in this world,” Ray said. “We might not be able to do it all but we can do something, and isn’t there great satisfaction in that? The happiest people I know are people who are doing things for other people. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”
Looking forward, Ray’s legacy and passion for civility and ethical leadership will be focused on student life.
“What’s on the horizon? How [can the Ray Center] maximize the opportunities we already have and look for the new opportunities to have the greatest impact on students, faculty, and staff here while we serve the rest of the world,” Raecker said.
Claudia Frazer, director of University Archives and Special Collections, said a display case will be put together this fall including memorabilia from Ray. Some new items have already been added to the display cases in Collier Scripps.
For more information about Ray as well as the Ray Center, visit https://www.drake.edu/raycenter/.