The recent passing of former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray brought to mind an experience I had in the early 1970s while at Drake University Law School.
One cold, blustery winter night as I was crossing normally busy University Avenue in Des Moines on my way home from the law library, I observed a car stopped in the east-bound lane for a man sitting in the middle of the street. The driver of the car and his wife had gotten out to help the man. The driver took off his coat to put around the man’s shoulders and helped him to the curb. I went out to see if I could help as the driver, now coatless, reassured the apparently intoxicated fellow that help was on the way.
The driver of that car was Gov. Robert Ray.
In hindsight, Gov. Ray’s random act of kindness towards a complete stranger should have come as no surprise. After all, he also was the only one of 50 governors nationwide to extend a welcome to a sizable ethnic group of Vietnamese refugees displaced by the end of the war in Vietnam.
This compassion for others in need and recognition that we all depend on each other, seem to have been core components of Gov. Ray’s character, no doubt informed by his Midwestern upbringing and religious values.
Interestingly, his compassion to the Vietnamese refugees refugees displaced by conflict was rewarded by these refugees becoming vital contributors to Iowa’s culture and economy. That’s generally how immigration has worked since the beginning of our nation.
As for what became of the fellow helped by the governor and his wife that cold winter’s night, I cannot say. But I do know that Gov. Ray’s remarkable example of servant leadership that night has lived on in my memory until the present day, nearly 50 years later.
A recent tribute to Gov. Ray on public radio recorded him as observing some years ago that “we are not pinpoints living in isolation, but can all learn from each other” - and help one another.
Words well worth remembering always; and perhaps particularly in our factious times.