Born Dec. 3, 1928, in Abilene, Ray graduated from Abilene Christian High School in 1946, and from ACU in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. She also studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder and The University of Texas at Austin. She was profiled in the Winter-Spring 2017 issue of ACU Today magazine after receiving the Dale and Rita Brown Outlive Your Life Award at May Commencement in 2016:
Dewby. Just one person with that name can be found in ACU’s database of alumni, donors and other friends. These days, Louise (Adams ’50) Ray is on loan to the city of Lubbock, where she resides in retirement some 160 or so miles from where her heart truly lies.
That, of course, would be somewhere on the 262 acres bounded in general by East North 10th Street, Campus Court, Ambler Avenue and Judge Ely Boulevard.
And that, of course, is where her beloved alma mater – “the college” as she dutifully refers to it – was shaped by her and her family in ways not everyone realizes nor can she always articulate. She did her best to do that on May 7, when the 87-year-old diminutive firecracker of a woman was honored at Commencement as ACU’s 2016 recipient of the Dale and Rita Brown Outlive Your Life Award.
“When we gather for Commencement,” said president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) as he opened a luncheon in her honor between the day’s two graduation ceremonies, “we like to show students a picture of what it looks like to be a successful graduate of ACU.”
Success can be measured many ways, of course.
If it’s counted in the number of friends you have, or in those who know of you, then Dewby is far down the road from most of us. Today’s ACU students may not recognize her, but a good half-century of others before them know the gregarious lady who seems to know just about everyone whose path she crossed on the hilltop she calls home.
“A few of us went from first grade through college on this campus,” she says, reminding the listener of the days when an academy, now known as Abilene Christian Schools, shared space with the college where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education.
Dewby’s father was the late Dr. Walter H. Adams Sr. (’25), the longtime ACU dean who put his alma mater’s academic program on the map with its first full accreditation in 1951. He was Abilene Christian’s first faculty member and executive officer to earn a doctorate, receiving a master’s from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from Columbia University, the latter during the early days of the Great Depression. He was married to music teacher Louise (Harsh ’26) and the couple had another daughter, Nancy (Adams ’53) Boone, and a son, Wally (’60).
Dewby and her late husband, Amos, were experts at befriending students. Twenty-two of them lived with the Rays through the years in their house on Washington Boulevard. Their home was a beehive of activity, with students buzzing in and out for food, advice, admonishment, laughter and enough stories to pass the hours most days and nights.
She met Amos at a church picnic in Boulder while the two of them studied at the University of Colorado in the summer of 1948, and they married in Abilene’s College (now University) Church of Christ chapel in 1952.
Ten days after their wedding, Amos left for military service in Europe during the Korean War. Dewby soon joined him, and the Rays lived in Landsberg am Lech and Landstuhl while he was stationed in Germany for the next three years. They helped start a congregation in Kaiserslautern, and Dewby – who was assistant professor of music and cheerleader sponsor at Lipscomb University before marrying – taught in the American School in Landsberg.
After the Rays’ military life, she used her bachelor’s degree in music education to teach elementary and middle school music in the Lamesa (Texas) Independent School District; Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee; Abilene Christian Schools; and College Heights Elementary in Abilene.
“My first job [at ACU] was with Ken Rasco (’48) in the Registrar’s Office, where he told us we should learn how to treat people as friends,” Dewby says of her role as transcript clerk in 1968.
She became assistant to the alumni director in 1972, campus hostess in 1983 – a new role focusing on student retention and directing the work of emeriti ambassadors – and coordinator of alumni and parent programs in 1986. At various times through the years, Dewby directed Freshman Follies and Summer Showcase; was sponsor of the International Club, summer singing groups, the Inter-Social Club Council, the Student Advisory Council and the Student Foundation; and coordinated class reunions, Homecoming and the inaugural Alumni Choral Reunion in 1989.
Few people could have filled all those shoes, of course. But Dewby did, and walked the proverbial extra mile in many of them.
Those varied roles put her in touch with tens of thousands of students who either knew her or knew when she was in the room, thanks to a cackling laugh as distinctive as her nickname. Dewby’s iconic outbursts of joy are sometimes loud and always self-perpetuating, and before long, she has everyone in the room cracking up as well.
She retired from full-time employment in 1990 but continued to work part time and volunteer in many ways on campus and in the community while seldom missing an opportunity to attend games to cheer for her beloved Wildcats. When ACU teams played Texas Tech University in Lubbock the past three years, not far from their bench was their shortest, oldest and likely most engaged fan.
During a campus visit in August 2013, she spoke of the difficult adjustment of leaving Abilene so she and Amos could live near their daughter, Nan Ray (’79). Dewby went through some medical challenges in the months before and after the move. Amos died in September 2013, leaving a void in her life that has been filled, in part, by family members and the new friends she’s made in Lubbock, and others from around the world who stay in touch with and encourage her each day.
“There are a bunch of GATAs at Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock who encourage me, hug me, write notes to me,” she says of the ACU women’s social club for which she served as a sponsor for years, and of her new home congregation.
“But I’m already tired of hearing about Texas Tech all the time,” she retorts in a frank tone, proving you can take a girl off the Hill but not the Hill out of the girl. “They’re afraid to let me drive because they think I’ll head to Abilene and not come back.”
She’s always spoken her mind, told it like it is, reminded others how it used to be, and exhorted friends and foes alike to greater effort. She admits she gets that from her late “Daddy,” as she calls Dean Adams, a similarly larger-than-life icon who took no shortcuts to growing the institution to which he committed his hard-working life.
“It has been a long struggle to get ACU to where it is today,” Dewby explains, even though she’s several years removed from a leadership role in Women for Abilene Christian University, which began in 1969 with her as founding president. Its purpose is to rally support for “the college,” including scholarships and campus improvement projects. Few experiences fill her with more pride than those she shared on behalf of WACU.
Today, she’s proudly old-school and pens handwritten thank-you notes for everything. They’re meticulous, well written, heart-felt, brutally honest and highly prized.
“I can’t think of anyone who loves ACU more than Dewby,” says Betsey (Bolin ’85) Craig, former assistant director of alumni relations and a GATA sponsor since 1985. “Second to ACU, she loves GATA. She hasn’t been its sponsor for probably 40 years, but she’s still talked about like she is. We’re proud to follow in her footsteps and perpetuate the traditions and history of our 96-year-old club and our alma mater.”
At the luncheon between Commencement services this past May, Dewby clutched a microphone and held court from a chair at the front of the room. She alternately told stories, thanked people, cackled spontaneously and caused others to laugh even louder, expressing appreciation for “all of you who are my grandkids, or think you are.”
“I do love this school,” she says, turning serious. “I do.”
Speaking for the school she and her family helped build, and all the friends she’s made along the way, well, we love the one and only Dewby Ray right back.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Dr. Walter H. (’25) and Louise (Harsh ’26) Adams; a sister, Nancy (Adams ’53) Boone; a brother, Wally Adams (’60); Amos, her husband of 61 years; and a son, Nathan Ray (’76).
Among survivors are a daughter, Nan Ray (’79), and Vicki Biffle (whom she referred to as a daughter for many years), both of Lubbock, Texas; a brother-in-law, Bill Ray, of Birmingham, Alabama; and a daughter-in-law, Charlotte Ray Bicking, of Fort Worth. She has seven grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren, including Krista Biffle of Lubbock, Marcus and Gwen Ray of Prosper, Texas, and their sons Caleb, Saber, Nico and Micah and their daughter Maddy; Jodi and Jason Chappell of Arlington, Texas, and their daughter Katlyn; Angie and Chris Graham of Lubbock, Texas, and their son Braxton and daughters McKynlee, Karyson and Adi; Nick and April Ray of Hampshire, Tennessee, and their sons Cole and Jesse, and their daughter Nina; Vanessa (Ray ’00) and Randy Malone of Boyd, Texas, and their sons Ian and Calin, and daughters Lydia, Charlotte, Hattie and Ruby; and Alesha and Will McDonald of London, England. She also is survived by five nieces and one nephew, and their children and grandchildren; and many close family friends including Lynn Kelley, and JoAnne Weeden and her family.
Memorials can be made to the Nathan and Louise Harsh Scholarship or the Walter H. Adams Sr. Award Endowment at ACU (acu.edu/giveonline or Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132) or to The Associates or Athletics at Lubbock Christian University (lcu.edu/support-lcu/give-online or LCU Development Office, 5601 19th St., Lubbock, Texas 79407).