Robert D. Ray, a popular five term governor of Iowa, passed away on Sunday, July 8th at the age of 89.
Ray, who served as governor from 1969 to 1983, had been suffering from declining health over the past few years due to Parkinson’s disease. He passed away due to natural causes at a care facility in Des Moines, which his family reported as his residence for the past few years.
“Governor Ray’s legacy lives on in the millions of people that he impacted as a tremendous statesman for Iowa and our nation,” stated Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. “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.”
Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg also offered sincere condolences, stating, “Governor Ray was a giant in Iowa history, and he left an indelible mark on this state. He will be remembered as a leader who earned the respect of Iowans of all backgrounds and beliefs. May he remain a role model to us all.”
Ray, a Republican, was known for being a gentle and humble leader. His time in office spanned several critical years of social upheaval and change, and he guided the state through them. One of his most notable accomplishments was his welcome of refugees from Southeast Asia who were displaced by the Vietnam War and other conflicts in the area throughout the 1970s.
Born in 1928, Ray was enlisted in the U.S. Army, and fought in Japan before returning to Des Moines to marry his high school sweetheart Billie Lee Hornberger in 1951. He graduated from Drake University with a business degree, going on to earn a degree from Drake Law School and take up practice as a trial lawyer.
Ray played many roles in politics before the years he served as governor, and notably became the youngest man in 100 years to hold the position of state chairman of the Iowa Republicans, taking the position in 1963.
During his time as Iowa’s governor, Ray oversaw the reordering of state departments, the beginning of collective bargaining for state employees, a massive reconstruction of the way the Iowa Courts functioned, and much, much more. He was also the first governor to move into Terrace Hill after the 1869 mansion was donated to the state.
After leaving the governorship in 1983, Ray entered the insurance business, and presided over many notable business mergers. He also served as the interim mayor for the City of Des Moines in 1997 and was the president of his alma mater, Drake University, in 1998. In 2005, Ray was given the highest honor a state citizen can receive: the Iowa Award.
“Governor Ray was a one of a kind leader and leaves behind a tremendous legacy,” stated Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. “Our state, our nation, and our world were made better by his outstanding leadership. He was a model for all of us to follow and will be greatly missed.”
Funeral information is set to be determined by Monday.