Former Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray died early Sunday morning.
Governor Ray had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and died peacefully of natural causes according to a statement from his family. He was 89.
David Oman, who served as chief of staff during Ray’s tenure as governor, spoke with Radio Iowa Sunday afternoon.
“First of all, he was a very humble public servant. He served our state as governor for 14 years (and) was CEO of two insurance companies, interim mayor of Des Moines, president of Drake Univeristy,” Oman said. “He exuded civility and fairness. He was a complete gentleman always. He worked in a bipartisan way.”
Ken Quinn also worked in Ray’s office. Quinn credited Ray for being at the forefront of efforts to help the refugees of the Vietnam War.
“He was the first governing official anywhere in the world to step forward and to offer to accept and therefore rescue the Vietnamese boat people who were drowning at sea, being killed by maurading pirates, as they were desperately seeking to live in freedom,” Quinn said.
Ray also organized Iowa Shares, sending food, medicine and Iowa medical volunteers to Thailand’s border to help Cambodians fleeing their country’s brutal dictator.
“To me, that will be an enduring legacy for the ages,” Quinn said.
Ray was a 40-year-old attorney who’d been chairman of the Iowa Republican Party when he was first elected governor in 1968. Jeff Kaufmann, the party’s current chairman, said Ray had “gravitas, integrity and humility.”
“He eventually transcended electoral politics and transcended partisan politics and just moved into the realm of leader,” Kaufmann said.
President Gerald Ford considered Ray as a potential running mate in 1976. When Ray left the governor’s office in early 1983, he did a brief stint with the United States Mission to the United Nations. Oman called Ray a steady leader during challenging times.
“He’s probably the best boss that anyone could ever have,” Oman said. “He was firm. He was demanding. He set high standards…He was extraordinarily kind as well and made working fun, even though the hours were 10 and 12 and 14 hours long.”
According to Quinn, one bit of fun, for Ray, was having an intense game of ping pong.
“He was incredibly competitive and we staff members would have to go out and play ping pong against him,” Quinn said, adding it was a rare feat to beat the governor.
Ray is survived by his wife, Billie; three daughters and eight grandchildren.
In 2013, the World Food Prize established an award in Ray’s honor. Listen to the ceremony here.
Radio Iowa’s story about “Robert D. Ray, An Iowa Treasure” which was released in 2013.
Gov. Kim Reynolds issued the following statement Sunday on the passing of former Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray: “Governor Ray’s legacy lives on in the millions of people that he impacted as a tremendous statesman for Iowa and our nation. His civility, courage and common-sense governing set a high standard for those who followed.
“May our prayers and thoughts bring peace to First Lady Billie Ray, her daughters and family at this time.”
Former Governor Tom Vilsack issued the following statement Sunday: “Governor Ray set the highest standard for and in public service. He never stopped giving to the state he loved and the people he served in so many different capacities. His role in inviting refugees to Iowa is one of his many legacies and is a reminder of what was best about him and about Iowa. Christie and I send thoughts and prayers go to the entire Ray family. “
Following the passing of former Iowa Governor Robert Ray, Fred Hubbell released the following statement: “Governor Ray’s courageous and compassionate leadership serves as an example to us all,” said Fred Hubbell. “He was an Iowan first, always putting what was best for the people and this state above all else. A testament to this, was his constant work across the aisle to push and pass landmark accomplishments like collective bargaining for Iowa workers, the Iowa Bottle Bill to clean up Iowa roads, and his welcoming of war-torn refugees that have enriched Iowa communities. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on in those deeds. Our hearts and prayers are with First Lady Billie Ray and all of the Ray family.”
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price released the following statement in memory of Governor Bob Ray: “Our hearts are with Governor Ray’s family, friends, and all Iowans mourning his passing. Governor Ray lived and led with Iowa values. He governed with the spirit of service and shaped our great state for the better. Although we were from different sides of the aisle, we know and hope his legacy will live on for years to come.”
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa released the following statement today regarding the passing of former Iowa Governor Bob Ray: “Governor Ray leaves behind a legacy of public service whose humanitarianism and visionary leadership as the state’s chief executive will enrich our state for generations to come. A soldier, statesman, citizen and CEO, Bob Ray was a profile of an American patriot. From my years in the statehouse through my first term in the U.S. Senate, I witnessed Gov. Ray strengthen the grassroots of our party, make Iowa a better place to grow, and build our state’s economy. Barbara and I extend our heartfelt condolences to Billie and the entire Ray family. He will be greatly missed.”
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst released the following statement on Twitter: “Bob Ray was beloved; across Iowa and the country My prayers go out to his family at this time, as well as all those he helped, in his many years of service to Iowa.”
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann released the following statement after the passing of former Iowa Governor Bob Ray: “Governor Ray was a combination of statesmanship, unquestioned integrity, and leadership that transcended politics. Just hours before I assumed the Chairmanship of the Iowa Republican Party, I visited the Governor and he provided me advice and guidance. Every single time I walked away from a visit with Bob Ray, I realized that I had just been in the presence of an Iowa legend. My sincere condolences go out to his wife and daughters with my sincere gratitude for sharing the man who helped to make our precious Iowa a better place. God bless you my friend. Rest in the assurance that you have served a grateful State and Nation with honor and grace.”
Former Iowa Governor Chet Culver released the following statement: “Governor Robert Ray was a class act and he represented the very best of Iowa. His bipartisan work on character development, civility, collective bargaining, civil rights, conservation and refugee resettlement are things all Iowans can be proud of and truly reflect his well earned legacy of service.
As I said during my Inaugural address, Governor Ray taught us that Iowans expect us to encourage, not to shy away from, the diversity that has made us a better state.
Mari and I along with the entire Culver family offer our prayers and sympathy to former First Lady Billie Ray and her daughters on this sad day for the Ray family and for Iowa.
Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad released the following statement: “Governor Robert D. Ray loved Iowa. He was a true gentleman and a role model of civility. A global citizen and compassionate leader, he warmly welcomed refugees to Iowa at the conclusion of the Vietnam War and laid the groundwork for our Sister State in China. He treated everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of their stature in life.
“As his third Lieutenant Governor, I learned a great deal about honest ,open, effective, and accountable leadership by seeing him in action. He had a great sense of humor and made people feel appreciated.
“He will be missed by many.”