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Bill Kirby Jr.: A better community because Bob Ray passed our way

‘He was dependable and honest,’ Dr. Richard Shereff says about the longtime Fayetteville lawyer who died Thursday at age 79. ‘And he was the impeccable gentleman.’


Bob Ray was one of the good guys in our community.

He has been one of our longtime lawyers, and when it came to estate planning, taxes, wills and trusts, you could turn to him for the best advice and business law legalese. He was calm and comfortable at his downtown office, replete with his love for orchids and a view that looked out onto Hay Street and the Methodist church across the way.

He liked seeing the pedestrians passing by on the city streets.

Clients were comfortable with Ray as their lawyer, too.

“He would be there at this desk at 7:30 in the morning,” says Randy Gregory, a local lawyer. “He was very personable and always kept a neat desk. He worked on one file at a time and never had two files open on his desk.”

Ray just had that way about him since he began practicing law here when he joined the firm of Charlie Rose II, Herb Thorp and Tony Rand 50 years ago.

“He was one of the best tax attorneys not only here, but in the region,” says Lyndo Tippett, who lured Ray to Fayetteville to work with the Rose, Thorp and Rand legal firm. “I met Bob Ray in the tobacco field in 1962. He had a job working with Franklin County. They came to measure my tobacco. When he went to law school, I called him on behalf of Tony Rand and Herb Thorp and encouraged him to come to Fayetteville, and he became a marvelous addition to the city. His wife, Sylvia, led the way in community work and he was very supportive of her, and Bob was one of my favorite people.”

Immersed in the community

Bob and Sylvia Ray immersed themselves in the community. She founded the Women’s Center of Fayetteville in 1990 for underprivileged women in what today is known as the Center for Economic Empowerment & Development. He was chairman of the Cumberland County Public Library building fund campaign and was instrumental in the construction of the Headquarters Library, and an ardent supporter of the Cumberland Community Foundation, Cape Fear Botanical Garden and the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra.

“Bob was involved in a lot of things for the betterment of this community,” Gregory says.

Bob and Sylvia Ray were easy to be around. You found them at social functions, including the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, where they enjoyed friends as much as the camellia garden, the weeping willows and the horticultural trails. You found them at the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, where Bob Ray had such an appreciation for the violins and the strings and the sounds of French horns, trumpets, trombones, cymbals and cellos. Or taking in Foreigner or Smokey Robinson or Hall & Oates at a Community Concerts event in the Crown Theatre.

And those gourmet dinner gatherings with friends Richard and Susan Shereff, Menno and Suzanne Pennink, Gary and Joanne Copeland, Denny and Kim Shaffer, and later Stephen and Rhonda Gooding and Patti Monroe were among those in the social fellowship that Bob and Sylvia Ray enjoyed with such enthusiasm.

“He was an asset at the table,” Richard Shereff says. “He was a great storyteller and kept people entertained.”

Sylvia Ray died at age 79 on Nov. 30, 2020.

“He was very stoic,” Richard Shereff says. “It hurt him deeply.”

Ray immersed himself in his law practice and continued his work for the community to include nonprofits.

“I think he sat on most boards and nonprofits,” Shereff says. “He worked behind the scenes with funding.”

He had visited Antarctica in January, and Ray would remind friends that Antarctica was nice, but oh so cold. By April, B-cell lymphoma was invading his body.

Robert Glen Ray died Thursday morning at his Haymount home, daughters Nicole Graysmith and Lauren Ray by their father’s side.

He was 79.


“He was a prince in Fayetteville,” Gregory says. “First class and just nice.”

And always there when someone was in need. 

“He was dependable and honest,” Shereff says. “And he was the impeccable gentleman.”

Bob Ray was the gentleman personified.

This community is a lesser community in his absence. And this community is a better community because Bob Ray passed its way.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910- 624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Bob Ray