A crowd gathered in the Iowa Capitol rotunda late this afternoon to bid a formal farewell to former Governor Robert D. Ray.
At 5 p.m., hundreds stood silently as Ray’s casket was carried to the center of the first floor rotunda.
An honor guard took their posts. A harpist played the Navy Hymn, in honor of Ray’s military service.
Three of Ray’s granddaughters, six members of the Asian community and Governor Reynolds placed three wreaths by the flag-draped coffin. Some of the Vietnam refugees Ray had helped resettle in Iowa in the 1970s and early ’80s led the crowd as it filed by the coffin. Mani Nhung of Urbandale was among those who came to pay her respects.
“He saved our life, gave us a new life,” Nhung said, her voice wobbling with emotion.
Nhung is a member of Vietnam’s persecuted Tai Dom community who came to Iowa when she was 14 and didn’t know a word of English.
“Because of him, that’s why people follow him. They opened their heart, their love to us,” she said.
“We just love him so much…to open the door for us. We are just so grateful,” she said.
Ray served as Iowa’s governor from January of 1969 until January of 1983. For 51-year-old Robin Clemons of Marshalltown, that’s most of her childhood.
“I grew up in Iowa and Governor Ray was always the governor,” Clemons said. “I went to the State Fair a few times as a kid and seeing him a few times and I actually got to meet him once. I just thought he was the nicest man.”
Karen Anderson of Urbandale left a handwritten note for the governor’s family.
“He’s just an amazing man,” Anderson said, her voice quaking with emotion. “I was a 19-year-old kid when I first came to Des Moines as a state employee, fresh off the farm, and he was just an outstanding man, high character, virtuous, treated everybody with dignity and respect — I don’t care who you were…We’ve lost an Iowa treasure.”
Dennis and Virginia Burlingame of Lineville drove to Des Moines to pay their respects.
“I really liked him because was a moderate. There’s not many of those and he was a uniter. We need more of those,” Dennis Burlingame said.
Virginia Burlingame added: “He was an Iowan, through and through, and he stayed rather than using it as a stepping stone to someplace else.”
“Actually the memories are really good,” Schnepf said. “…We just had a lot of good times.”
Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad flew back from China, where he’s serving as U.S. Ambassador, arriving at the capitol at about 6 p.m.
“His health has not been good and I just thought if at all possible I wanted to be here to pay my respects and show how much I appreciate all that he did for Iowa and for me,” Branstad told reporters.
Ray died Sunday at the age of 89. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. His funeral is Friday at the Des Moines church where he met his wife. The two were married at First Christian Church, too, and their daughters were baptized there.
This afternoon, police and state troopers led the hearse carrying Ray’s casket on a tour of Des Moines, passing by his church, the governor’s mansion and Des Moines City Hall before stopping at the capitol.