B. Ray OwenMTHS Class of 1952
Died Friday, Jan. 16 2015
B. Ray Owen
B. Ray Owen of Cape Girardeau died Friday, Jan. 16 2015, after a monthlong battle with pneumonia beset with complications.
Visitation will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at Ford and Sons Mount Auburn Funeral Home.
A celebration of the life and times of B. Ray Owen will later be held with the coming of spring and the promise of new beginnings.
Ray is survived by his wife and life partner, Sally; a son, Dr. Stephen Owen of Christiansburg, Virginia; a brother, Calvin Owen of Saltillo, Mississippi; a sister, Sue Aldridge of Newyago, Michigan; nieces and nephews; and felines Annie and Peaches, who spiritedly competed for lap time while he worked at his computer.
In honor of Ray's life, memorials may be made to the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri, the Humane Society of the United States or Mid-America Teen Challenge.
Ray was born Aug. 21 (he subscribed to the theory that age is a number and his was unlisted) near Dyersburg, Tennessee, son of Charles Edward and Bernice Owen. Following the untimely death of his mother a short time later, Ray was sent to be raised by his hardworking, loving grandparents, Liston and Laura Owen, who lived by the words of the Bible and found it disconcerting that Ray's maternal grandfather spent his fair share of time in Tennessee county jails for making what was rumored to be some mighty fine moonshine.
Ray was a hard scrabble farm kid, unafraid of hard work and always looking for an opportunity to learn something new. A highlight of childhood in Southern Illinois was going into "town" to purchase store-bought white bread and bologna when the family budget allowed. He still considered a bologna sandwich slathered with mayo a treat.
To earn money to buy his first car, which came mostly in crates, Ray picked up copious amounts of walnuts. The price of the car was a princely sum of $150. A self-taught shade-tree mechanic, he got the car in running order and drove it thousands of miles without incident.
Ray graduated from Mounds Township High School at the age of 17 and joined the Army, where he spent time as a cartographer and playing on Army basketball teams.
B. Ray factoid No. 1: To many, Ray's first name remained (with the exception of the U.S. government and the military), a well-kept secret. Suffice it to say that Ray had a particular fondness for the Johnny Cash song "A Boy Named Sue."
After serving in the army, Ray returned to Southern Illinois, where he managed a Cairo movie theater, doing everything from taking tickets to running the often cranky projector.
A hidden talent that opened the door to a lengthy career in journalism was his inherent gift of writing. His style was crisp, often laced with a just the right amount of humor. The Cairo Evening Citizen, then a daily, signed him on as a sportswriter/jack of all trades, including running a lengthy daily delivery route through the winding hills of Southern Illinois. He worked his way through the ranks to become sports editor and then editor, covering the Cairo riots of the mid-1960s, dodging bricks and bullets to get accurate, riveting reports of the civil unrest that would profoundly affect Cairo in years to come.
When JFK was assassinated in November 1963, Ray heard the news at the local laundromat and rushed back to (what journalism veterans will recall) "stop the presses." The breaking coverage of the assassination earned Ray and the Daily Citizen a state award.
Ray took classes at SIU Carbondale in business and journalism. During his tenure as editor at The Citizen, he worked with SIU to establish a Southern Illinois high school journalism program.
Ray unwittingly met his someday-wife Sally at a Goldwater for President rally on the grounds of Cairo High School. As distributor of press passes to professional journalists and groups of students allowed to cover the event, one of those passes was given to the high-school girl in a green coat, an official representative of the Central High School Tiger. It would be some years later when they would meet again, this time in the newsroom of the Southeast Missourian, where Ray had signed on as sports editor. Newbie Sally was fascinated with the guy who hung his foot over the desk as he purposefully pounded out one story after another in record time. Ray wooed Sally not with sweet nothings but with funny and endearing stories of dogs who had shared his life.
During his 35 years at the Southeast Missourian, Ray produced award-winning sports news, later becoming city editor and the self-appointed guru of those new things called computers that turned carbon paper and white out into trade relics. The final portion of his newspaper career was spent as business editor, and again he produced award-winning stories and page layouts. He often commented that the days of linotype machines, the ability to read copy upside down and catch typos and the urgent "bells" of the AP ticker tape announcing breaking news were "what kept the ink in his blood flowing."
The purchase of a box of old movie magazines from the 1930s and '40s at an auction opened a new avenue for Ray. He studied and became highly knowledgeable about vintage books, magazines and paper ephemera of all sorts. For many years, Ray maintained a booth in local antiques malls, currently at Pastimes Antiques in downtown Cape. He was kind enough to name Sally vice president of cookbooks, joking that she loved to gather cookbooks to read. Ray did not need cookbooks to turn out his signature meals, country fried steak with homemade gravy, real mashed potatoes and from-scratch chicken and dumplings.
By far, the greatest source of pride for Ray was his son, Stephen. Of the many Missouri Press Association awards and honors Ray received during his career, the greatest and most meaningful was "Dad of the Year," an essay contest sponsored by West Park Mall. Nine-year-old Stephen's essay was simple and mirrored Ray's philosophy of life. "My dad is the bestest because he never says you've got to win, he says try your best and you will always be a winner." And though he never bragged (it's an Irish thing), Stephen's successes through school and later as a professor of criminal justice at Radford University filled Ray's heart with pride.
B. Ray factoid No. 2: As a young man, Ray was a certified Arthur Murray dance instructor.
Ray, through osmosis, acquired Sally's love for New Orleans. They traveled there once a year, giving Ray time to savor rich chicory coffee at the Cafe du Monde while reading the (then) Daily Times Picayune. Later he spent hours plowing through French Quarter bookstores smelling of old paper and governed by the bookstore tabby in residence, always on the lookout for hidden treasure.
Ray patiently lived with a succession of abandoned/shelter pets, bonding with all but one. That was Big Fellow, Sally's college cat, a large orange tabby with a penchant to annoy males, particularly Ray. Big Fellow regularly hid around corners, seizing an opportune moment to pounce on Ray's (hopefully) bare feet. Still, when Big Fellow used the last of his nine lives and went to cat heaven (though we are far from sure), Ray was the one to provide a suitable grave and homemade marker.
Ray's life can be summed up with one sentence: He was a kind, decent, patient man with big, strong hands and a bigger heart.
Although Ray's coverage of the final quarter of a close football game could have the qualities of a written symphony, he was not one to compose long notes on anniversary cards. The same thought appeared year after year: "It's been a great run." It was indeed.
Online condolences may be made at fordandsonsfuneralhome.com.