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Bill Ray, longtime Juneau advocate, dies at 91

Posted: September 9, 2013 - 2:36pm  |  Updated: September 10, 2013 - 12:03am
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Former Sen. Bill Ray.  Juneau Empire File Photo
Juneau Empire File Photo
Former Sen. Bill Ray.

Longtime former Juneau resident Bill Ray has died at the age of 91.

Ray, who died Monday, Sept. 9, served in the Alaska Legislature for 22 years before retiring to Sequim, Wash. He was a powerful advocate for Juneau as Alaska’s capital, and an influential state senator whose projects included securing funding for construction of some of the city’s major landmarks and co-authorship of the Permanent Fund Dividend bill.

“He was running unopposed,” Ray’s daughter, Terry Shattuck, said. “People loved him so much because he did a lot for Juneau and for the state, so there was really no competition.”

Born in Ananconda, Mont., Ray arrived in Alaska with his family as a teenager in 1938. After working as a longshoreman and serving in the Navy, Ray returned to Juneau to work at his family’s downtown bar, the PaMaRay Club on South Franklin Street, while continuing to commercial fish. He later opened several liquor stores with his first wife, Jeanne, and ran a charter boat business.

Ray’s involvement in alcohol sales and fishing led to his introduction to state politics; early roles included positions on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the Federal Fish and Game Advisory Board. Beginning in 1964, he was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives, and in 1970, after six years in the House, he was elected to the Alaska Senate, where continued to serve as a Democrat until 1986.

During his career, Ray was an advocate for many construction projects, working to secure funding for the State Office Building, the Douglas Bridge and Egan Drive, among other projects. He was also co-author of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend bill and Longevity Bonus bill, and worked to help establish the University of Alaska Southeast’s downtown hub, which was named the Bill Ray Center in his honor.

Ray maintained a serious demeanor about politics throughout his career, Shattuck said, but he also enjoyed making it fun.

For example, during a political tussle over moving Alaska’s state capital to Anchorage, Ray and his former-wife wrote songs for their children to sing at a talent show poking fun at an Anchorage legislator fighting to move the seat of government.

“He didn’t just let it go after session, it was an all the time sort of thing,” Shattuck said.

His popularity with locals in Juneau ultimately caused him to stop working in the businesses he owned because people “didn’t want to buy a bottle of wine, they just wanted to talk to the senator,” she added.

The family convinced him to retire in the 1990s while he was still “on top,” and in 2002, Ray moved to Sequim with his second wife, Nancy. He returned to Juneau in 2003, to sign copies of his memoir, titled “Liquor, Legislation & Laughter: the story of an S.O.B. (Sweet Old Bill).”

In describing Ray’s extensive influence on state politics, Larry Persily, former managing editor of the Empire, described him as “strong of opinion, strong of will and stubborn of head.”

Ray’s son, Bill Ray Jr., is a well-known Alaska artist whose work includes the mural on the City Municipal Building, “Raven Discovering Mankind in a Clam Shell.”

Ray is survived by his wife, Nancy Ray, of Sequim, his daughter and son-in-law, Terry Ray Shattuck and Roger Shattuck, of Mainel, his son and daughter-in-law, Bill C. Ray and Jutta Eming, of Berlin, Germany; grandchildren Lynn Shattuck, of Portland, Maine, and Julian and Lukas Ray, of Berlin, Germany. His grandson, Will Shattuck, preceded him in death.

No services are planned.

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