At Age 100, a Teacher's Fulfilled Life

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

Recently, Ruth Louise Graham Ray looked out over a sea of folks gathered in the old sanctuary of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church and made this observation:

"Well," she said, "it looks like my fourth-grade students have all grown up."

One of those students was Clarence Belton. All he says he remembers from the days when she taught at the Old LaVilla School is her face.

Another student was Bishop Rudolph McKissick Sr., senior pastor at Bethel. Like Belton, his memories of Ray were reduced to images more than moments.

"I always liked the way she walked ...there was something about that walk," he said. "She was an attractive lady ..."

But it's easy to understand why Belton and McKissick might only remember bits and pieces about Ray and their time in her class. They were children then. They're in their 80s now.

They along with hundreds of others had gathered for an early celebration of Ray's 100th birthday on Oct. 31.

And it wasn't simply a celebration of her living to be in range of that milestone - a feat that isn't all that unusual these days - but the impact that she had on people's lives as a teacher, as a longtime member of Bethel and as a pioneer for Girl Scouting for black girls in Jacksonville.

"Two years after I finished high school (she attended Old Stanton), they let blacks into the Girl Scouts," Ray said. "I became a national trainer for Girl Scouts."

"That was my first encounter with her - when we organized the Girl Scouts camp in 1933," said Camilla Perkins Thompson, local historian and chronicler of Jacksonville's black history.

"We loved her, as others have loved her."

But perhaps the secret to Ray's longevity is not just how she enriched other people's lives or the impressions she left with them, but how she never stopped finding ways to enrich her own.

To be sure, Ray has had quite a life. …

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