Gov. Robert Ray set a powerful example
His lifetime of public service should inspire all Iowans
Former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray died this month at age 89.
Younger Iowans may not realize just how important a role he played in our state’s history. For 14 years — from 1969 until 1983 — he served as Iowa’s top elected official. He won the governorship five times and served in that post so long that his tenure in that job would in itself be worthy of note.
What makes Ray worthy recalling — and honoring — however, is not the impressive electoral success he achieved or the longevity of his time in the governor’s chair. It is the exceptional quality of his public service that distinguishes him.
Gov. Kim Reynolds captured the essence of how Iowans will remember Ray.
“His civility, courage and common-sense governing set a high standard for those who followed,” she said upon learning of his death.
The civility Ray demonstrated is especially noteworthy in an era when our nation’s politics has become characterized by much vitriol. He was a genuinely thoughtful and principled leader who campaigned vigorously for causes he championed but treated both allies and opponents with respect and courtesy. We could use more of that approach in today’s combative political arena.
Ray was at the helm of the Hawkeye State during difficult times. The Vietnam War and its aftermath had a huge and quite negative impact on our nation’s politics during those years. He showed courage and vision by calling upon Iowans help make the world a better place. Ray challenged Iowa to become one of the most welcoming places in the nation for refugees from war-ravaged Southeast Asia. That was a stand that was not without controversy then – or later. It was, however, the right and compassionate thing to do.
Trying to find solutions to problems rather than simply talking about them was very much Ray’s game plan. That’s why this Republican governor worked so successfully with leaders of both political parties to build a modern state government and remarkable judicial system for our state. Many of the good things we now take for granted in Iowa might not have worked out so well had someone less wise or pragmatic been in the governor’s chair all those years ago.
After his time as governor, Ray continued to contribute to the success of our state. At key transition times, he served on an interim basis as mayor of Des Moines and president of Drake University. In the private sector, he helped bring about what is now named Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
Gov. Robert Ray helped the Hawkeye State succeed. He will be most remembered, however, for being the type of leader and citizen whose approach to life and service warrants not just respect and admiration but, more importantly, emulation. He will be missed, but his example will continue to inspire far into the future.