Eugene Ray: A Man Who Mattered

Eugene Ray, Jr., former Bedford County mayor

By Dr. Phyllis Qualls

The Celebration of Life Ceremony of former beloved Bedford County Mayor, Eugene Ray, Jr. was Saturday, August 17, 2019 at  Fairlane Church of Christ. It was a service befitting this man of great stature and commitment to God, family, community, county, region and state. 

Surrounded by his family, Eugene Ray, Jr. passed away peacefully on Wednesday, August 7, 2019, after a brief illness. Mayor Eugene Ray, Jr.’s service included family and friends from throughout the United States, as well as National and local elected officials and other dignitaries. Mayor Eugene Ray, Jr.’s touched so many lives throughout his career

 His great nephew, Artis Twyman,  a graduate of TSU, the Senior Marketing Director of the Los Angeles Rams, used the story of the Daughter of Jairus and the Woman with the Issue of Blood … he said Luke must have interviewed the woman after the incident because he fills the story with such …  Jesus comes to a halt and exclaims, “Who touched me?” Twyman explained ‘Uncle Eugene’ lovingly touched everyone.

A lifelong native of Bedford County, Shelbyville, TN, Mayor Ray was born on January 9, 1937, he was educated and served in the community he loved. He was married for 61 years to his high school sweetheart, the former Olivia Cleveland. His commitment to community and love of people catapulted him to be elected to successfully lead Bedford County as County Mayor for twelve consecutive years.

Congressman Jim Cooper said, “The fact that Mayor Ray was elected to the position of County Mayor of Bedford County, with only a 6.6 percent African American population, is a testament of his love for the citizens of this county and how they loved him.

This historical accomplishment was added to the many records he had accomplished as the first African American to achieve this record. He served as county commissioner for 28 years, serving as chair while simultaneously serving as County Mayor. 

Under his mayoral leadership Bedford County received county-wide and state recognition for its prudence as well as its progressive programs focused on the betterment of every citizen. Prior to his mayoral tenure, he was a local Real Estate Broker,  retired from the U.S. Air Force Arnold Engineering Development Center as Supervisor of Water Treatment and  served as President of the Shelbyville Chamber of Commerce. He was also a member of numerous boards locally and statewide. Throughout the service, a tapestry of heartfelt thoughts were woven into everyone’s remarks that continually reiterated Mayor Ray’s love for his community. Elder Larry Crismon, Jr., of Mayor Ray’s church, Bright Temple Church of Christ, performed the eulogy and further embraced the thoughts of the program participants, as well as the attendees. “Faith, family, service and leadership, are what embodied Mayor Ray,” said Elder Crismon. He added, “Leadership is service and that is his legacy.”

Mayor Ray was the recipient of numerous prestigious honors, recognitions and awards including the legacy of the Eugene Ray Little League Baseball Field. His greatest honors was the testimonies of so many who credit him for making their lives so much better. He was a member of Bright Temple Church of God in Christ where he served as treasurer for more than 40 years.

Celebrating his legacy forever are wife, Olivia Ray; children, Valerie (Charles) Avent, Dr. Kertrina Brame; grandchildren, Mary Avent, Charles Avent, Jr.; brothers; Careyb(Anna) Ray, Dr. Bernardb(Angela)Ray; sister, Elaine (Roland) Ray-Radford; brothers-in-law, Joe (Evelyn) Cleveland, Donald (Denise) Cleveland; sisters-in-law, Joann (Lloyd) Mitchell, Martha Dysart, Era (Jerome) Twyman, Evelyn Thomas and many nephews, nieces, cousins as well as countless devoted friends and supporters.

Services were held on Saturday, August 17, 2019 at Fairlane Church of Christ, 101 Dow Drive, Shelbyville, TN and burial service at Willow Mount Cemetery, Shelbyville, TN.

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