My name is Len Leatherwood and I am Ray’s sister-in-law and Jim and Kevin’s aunt. Let me say on behalf of our entire family that we appreciate that you are here today to help commemorate the life of our beloved Ray. I am certain everyone in this church has been touched by his amazing spirit and we are grateful that we can come together to pay our collective respects to this wonderful man.
I met Ray when I was nine-years-old, right after he graduated from the University of Colorado as a young engineer and just before he was going to marry my sister, Leslie. I liked his quick smile and gentle manner right away, even though I found his language odd. Growing up in a small Texas town, I had little occasion to hear any accent besides a drawl and I found Ray’s pronunciation of Nevada (long a) versus Nevada (short a) or Colorado (long a) versus Colorado (short a) very strange. Plus, he referred to me as a gal and whenever he was excited he would shout out, “Gad!” or “Egads!” Yes, all of this made my soon-to-be brother-in-law slightly foreign and distinctly unique. Of course, little did I know then exactly how unique Ray would prove to be, or what a profound impact he would have on my life.
I was the flower girl when Leslie and Ray got married in an all-white wedding save for a single red rose in the middle of the maid-of-honor’s bouquet. Over the fifty-three years since that event, I have periodically thought of the symbolism of that color scheme. The white for me signifies the goodness of these two wonderful people as well as the kindness that characterized their interactions with others; the red rose seemed to portend the trials each would face in the years to come. And they both did face tribulations.
Leslie and Ray’s marriage lasted only twelve years; however, in that time, they produced and parented two of the loveliest people I will ever know, their daughter and son, Kevin and Jim. Over time, Kevin and Jim have created their own families. Kevin has Scott, her sweet husband and her step-children, Ellery and Derek; and Jim has Karri, his darling wife, and their children, Eli and Sophie, who are two of the brightest and nicest kids on God’s green earth. These people have been the foundation for Ray’s life and he was exceedingly proud of each and every one of them.
Ray’s story has many chapters and is one of transformation. He started out as that earnest young engineer who worked very hard at his job at Chicago Bridge and Iron. For the first ten years of his marriage to Leslie, they moved to a different city every two years for his job. Finally, they settled in Salt Lake City, which was Ray’s home, and he worked at Industrial Supply, the company where his father was president. About this time, his marriage to my sister failed and later he remarried another woman, Mary. He also formed Agutter Engineering, which he headed from 1979 – 1998, at which point he retired. About this same time, unfortunately, his second marriage failed. Also, he had been battling severe mood swings for quite some time and he knew he was in trouble.
Ray was a journal keeper and on these pages he poured out his worries, concerns, hopes and dreams. In one of his journals, he revealed that he felt lost and alone, not sure how to proceed with life. In another, he wrote out a list of what he wanted to change: 1) To travel more; 2) To gain more meaning from life; 3) To love himself more, 4) To be a better man. He knew he needed to change; he just wasn’t quite sure how to make that happen. Two things occurred about this time: the birth of his grandchildren, Eli and then Sophie, which helped refocus his life on family with constant visits and shared activities. Also, he found Burning Man.
I haven’t been to Burning Man personally, but through Ray’s photos and stories of the thirteen straight years he attended, I feel as if I have a fairly clear picture of how he saw this experience. Cooperative community, creativity, love, joy, peace, kindness. These were all words that peppered his accounts of his exploits there. Most importantly, friendship. Connection with amazing people from all over the world that was evidenced on a daily basis by innumerable texts, phone calls, emails and Facebook interactions. “This is an instrument of peace,” he would say holding up his I-phone. “This single device has the capacity to unite people to save our planet.” (I am sure I am not the only person who heard Ray’s awe over the unifying power of technology.) However, I watched Ray’s phone become a conduit of connection for him; a true instrument of change, not only for what concerned him about the planet, but also for himself. He was no longer lost and alone. He was on track and connected to a bigger purpose for his life. To spread love wherever he went. And he did just that.
Ray made it his goal to be emotionally available not only to his children and grandchildren, but also to his wide network of relatives and friends. He travelled all over the world and made friends wherever he went. He cultivated true love relationships with women in his life and is the only man I know who could have five girlfriends come together to celebrate his birthday just this past year. He also battled cancer with a grace that is hard to describe. He brought hope, joy, and peace to that process and touched the lives of countless people with his positive attitude and endless optimism. In short, he transformed himself from an ordinary man to an extraordinary human being and many of us in this room have witnessed this firsthand.
I believe that single red rose at Ray’s all-white wedding symbolized not only the trials he would face, but also the singular beauty that comes when living a life that is ablaze with color. And Ray’s life can only be described as one that was on fire with passion, love, and joy. We are all better off from having known this man; we would do well to emulate his example when facing our own trials. He would encourage each of us to always remember, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Ray loved Salt Lake City, the Utes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Episcopal church, and the oatmeal at McDonald’s. He also held in high esteem the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the doctors and staff there. In addition, he loved his Mind and Body support group at Huntsman, so much so that a group that should have ended in six weeks has continued on for the past 2 ½ years, with plans to continue on in the future. He referred to all these as “world class,” and, certainly, they all are.
Again, our family appreciates your presence. Even on this sad occasion Ray would remind us, “This is the best day of my life!”
My only response is to say, “Amen, brother. Amen.”