Oregon State University’s First Lady Beth P. Ray passed away Friday, March 21 after battling lung cancer. She was 67.
Beth Ray arrived at OSU in 2003 when her husband, Edward J. Ray, was named OSU’s 14th president. A lifetime educator, she was previously a business law professor, academic counselor and assistant dean for academic advising. Beth was born Aug. 18, 1946, and was raised in Prairieton, Ind. She received a bachelor of arts in English and philosophy from Rice University in 1968, and a law degree from Ohio State University School of Law in 1972.
The Rays, who were married for 44 years, have three children – Michael Ray, Katherine Hall and Stephanie Pritchard.
Celebration of life service for
June 2, 4:30 p.m. at the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU Campus.
Beth Ray, 1946-2014
Beth was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic lung cancer in May 2013 and had been receiving chemotherapy treatments. In January 2014, she and her family joined the campus community in a ceremony renaming the OSU Student Success Center as the Beth Ray Center for Academic Support. The push to rename the center in her honor was largely driven by student enthusiasm and Beth’s commitment to OSU students was well-known.
Many friends, colleagues and former students recall Beth fondly.
OSU graduate Bridget Burns, an American Council on Education Fellow, said she considered Beth a surrogate parent.
“Beth showed up for all the important things in my life. If I was doing something scary or receiving an award, you’d better bet that Beth Ray would be there to smile at me,” Burns said. “She was always so incredibly supportive, kind, and always honest and frank when I needed it.”
Burns was ASOSU president when the Rays came to OSU and was immediately struck by Beth’s frankness and generosity.
“I always looked up to her and Ed, not just for their supportive love story spanning almost a half century, but because they were totally grounded, honest and good people,” she said. “My heart aches about losing her. She was such a special person who brought clarity, light, and kindness into the world. We are all better for having known her.”
Although Beth knew her cancer was terminal, she kept as busy as possible until hospitalization prevented her from continuing her volunteer activities.
“The more you do, the better you feel,” she said in an interview in January. Philanthropy and volunteering were hallmarks of Beth’s commitment to the Corvallis community at large, and she was involved in many activities outside the realm of OSU.
One area where Beth made a big difference was as a member of the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation board. Foundation Director Jeff Larson said it didn’t take any persuasion to get Beth to join because of her strong drive to help people in need.
“I think that desire to do good for those who needed it really drove her to be on our board,” Larson said. “She was always one of our most enthusiastic board members and always one of the first people I called on to bounce ideas off of because she had a really strong ’can-do’ attitude.”
Larson said Beth always had great ideas about how to make the board’s special events even better. When she was co-chair of the Physician’s Gala fund-raising event, they had record-breaking success.
She was also part of the original planning group that got the Women Investing in Samaritan Health (WISH) giving circle off the ground. She agreed to chair the program after the original chair retired, and under her watch, WISH funded more than $100,000 in support for projects helping children and women in the community.
“I think her best qualities were enthusiasm and passion,” Larson said. “She really cared about improving health care for people in need and jumped in to help out whole-heartedly. She was a strong donor, volunteer and supporter of our hospital. Not having her here is noticeable and is a loss to our organization.”
Beth formed strong friendships with many people at OSU, including Betsy Hartley, director of external relations and marketing for the College of Agricultural Sciences.
During one memorable trip with the Rays to Baja on a whale cruise with OSU oceanographer Bruce Mate, Hartley recalls getting terribly seasick. Beth was immediately at her side with a bucket and crackers and Sprite. She kept an eye on Hartley until she began to improve.
“It was beyond humbling to be sick in front of your university’s First Lady, but she comforted and took care of me over the course of two days,” Hartley said. “And I am eternally grateful she took pity on me and cared for me.”
One of the events Hartley attended with the Rays every year was the Pendleton Round-Up, including riding in the Westward Ho parade in a horse-drawn wagon. Beth was in charge of throwing OSU bandanas to the crowd with precision-aim, and leading the OSU fight song.
“I cannot imagine facing that OSU-decorated wagon with her seat empty this next year,” Hartley said.
Everywhere that Beth went, she always engaged with students, Hartley said. Most importantly, she listened to them.
“I heard her talking with students over the years, and they were always conversations of hope and encouragement. She listened with her whole attention focused on them,” Hartley said. “She remembered. She was never impatient. She would ask me months later about specific students she had met and how they were doing, what they were doing. She cared. And it showed.”
~ Theresa Hogue