'We will never forget him': Iowa leaders mourn former Gov. Bob Ray

Tony Leys
The Des Moines Register

Iowa leaders of many stripes praised the legacy of former Gov. Bob Ray, a Republican who died Sunday.

Current Gov. Kim Reynolds, a fellow Republican, was one of the first to offer her condolences after the death was announced Sunday afternoon:

From 2013: Then-Gov. Terry Branstad, right, shakes hands with former Gov. Robert Ray, left, while Branstad's Lt. Gov., Kim Reynolds, looks on after Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address.

"Governor Ray's legacy lives on in the millions of people that he impacted as a tremendous statesman for Iowa and our nation. His civility, courage and common-sense governing set a high standard for those who followed," Reynolds said. "May our prayers and thoughts bring peace to First Lady Billie Ray, her daughters and family at this time."

Former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who served from 2009 until 2017, offered his admiration:

“Gov. Ray set the highest standard for and in public service. He never stopped giving to the state he loved and the people he served in so many different capacities," Vilsack said in a statement. "His role in inviting refugees to Iowa is one of his many legacies and is a reminder of what was best about him and about Iowa."

Som Baccam, who came to Iowa as a Tai Dam refugee in 1975, said members of her community were in mourning for Ray, who welcomed the Southeast Asian group to Iowa in the 1970s.

"It's a sad day for Iowans – especially for my community," Baccam said Sunday afternoon. "We will never forget him. He is part of our history."

Baccam, who arrived in Iowa as a refugee at age 11, went on to serve on the Des Moines school board, the Des Moines human rights commission and the Broadlawns Medical Center board. She estimated the Des Moines area now has 6,000 to 8,000 Tai Dam people, including refugees and their offspring. Ray's intercession helped bring them from refugee camps to America. "Without him, we might never have made it here," she said.

Tai Dam activist Som Baccam greets former Gov. Bob Ray during a 2013 awards ceremony at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.

Here are thoughts offered by other Iowa leaders:

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican: "Gov. Ray leaves behind a legacy of public service whose humanitarianism and visionary leadership as the state’s chief executive will enrich our state for generations to come. A soldier, statesman, citizen and CEO, Bob Ray was a profile of an American patriot. From my years in the statehouse through my first term in the U.S. Senate, I witnessed Gov. Ray strengthen the grassroots of our party, make Iowa a better place to grow, and build our state’s economy."

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat: “While Bob Ray was a tough political competitor, he was always fair minded, a gentleman, thoughtful; a person with a keen mind and a good heart. He gave politics and political office holding a good name, and used it to advance the ‘commonwealth.’ The saving and resettlement of the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ will forever be a shining star in his legacy.” 

Democratic governor candidate Fred Hubbell: "Governor Ray's courageous and compassionate leadership serves as an example to us all. He was an Iowan first, always putting what was best for the people and this state above all else. A testament to this was his constant work across the aisle to push and pass landmark accomplishments like collective bargaining for Iowa workers, the Iowa Bottle Bill to clean up Iowa roads, and his welcoming of war-torn refugees that have enriched Iowa communities. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on in those deeds."

Current Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, a Republican: "Governor Ray was a giant in Iowa history, and he left an indelible mark on this state. He will be remembered as a leader who earned the respect of Iowans of all backgrounds and beliefs. May he remain a role model to us all."

Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican: "He was an inspiration to so many Iowans, including myself. Bob Ray is the reason I entered public service. As a teenager, I attended a Boy Scouts proclamation signing in Governor Ray's Capitol office in the 1970's. Governor Ray gave me an Iowa flag and the lapel pin he was wearing. It was that meeting that spurred my lifelong commitment to serving others."

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price: "Governor Ray lived and led with Iowa values. He governed with the spirit of service and shaped our great state for the better. Although we were from different sides of the aisle, we know and hope his legacy will live on for years to come.”

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann: “Governor Ray was a combination of statesmanship, unquestioned integrity, and leadership that transcended politics. Just hours before I assumed the chairmanship of the Iowa Republican Party, I visited the governor and he provided me advice and guidance. Every single time I walked away from a visit with Bob Ray, I realized that I had just been in the presence of an Iowa legend.”

Iowa Senate Democratic leader Janet Petersen: "Governor Ray was a model leader who served with style, courage and humility to make our state a better place. By listening and working with Democrats and Republicans in the Capitol, Governor Ray was able to accomplish amazing things, including strengthening the rights of workers, making Iowa a welcoming state for immigrants and refugees, expanding the rights of voters, cleaning up the environment, and increasing opportunities for working Iowa families to improve their lives."

Polk County Democratic Chairman Sean Bagniewski, on Twitter: “Our state and our country desperately need more public servants like Gov. Robert D. Ray.”

Former Gov. Chet Culver: "Gov. Robert Ray was a class act, and he represented the very best of Iowa. His bipartisan work on character development, civility, collective bargaining, civil rights, conservation and refugee resettlement are things all Iowans can be proud of, and truly reflect his well earned legacy of service. As I said during my inaugural address, Gov. Ray taught us that Iowans expect us to encourage, not to shy away from, the diversity that has made us a better state."

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