Former Governor Robert D. Ray Dies at 89


Robert D. Ray (WHO-HD)

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DES MOINES, Iowa  —  Robert D. Ray, who was Iowa’s 38th governor, has passed away.

In a statement on Sunday afternoon, Ray’s former chief of staff confirms he had battled Parkinson’s disease and died of natural causes at a retirement community.

Ray was elected governor in 1968 and served 14 total years after being re-elected four times. He also served as CEO of two insurance firms in Iowa and was formerly president of Drake University.

Ray’s former chief of staff David Oman said, “Bob Ray defined the modern era governorship for Iowa and beyond. More importantly, he touched the lives of three generations of Iowans, who respected, trusted and followed his leadership. He will be greatly missed by many; his legacy will extend for decades to come.”

Funeral services for Ray will be announced at a later date. Click here to read Ray’s full bio.

Governor Reynolds released the following statement after Ray’s death:

“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. 

“May our prayers and thoughts bring peace to First Lady Billie Ray, her daughters and family at this time.” 

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also released a statement reading:

“Governor 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. 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. Christie and I send thoughts and prayers go to the entire Ray family.” 

Drake University President Marty Martin shared a message with the campus community on Sunday:

“With a heavy heart, I am writing to share that our cherished friend, distinguished alumnus, and former colleague, Robert D. Ray, died this morning. Governor Ray proudly served as Iowa’s 38th governor and, later in his career, as the 11th president of Drake University, from April 1998 to May 1999. He received his B.A. in business from Drake in 1952, and his juris doctorate from Drake Law School in 1954. 

“Governor Ray is survived by his beloved wife, Billie, three daughters and eight grandchildren. Plans for celebrating his life are pending, and will be announced at a later time. 

“Governor Ray had a tremendous impact on Iowa, the United States and the world. In similar fashion, he served his beloved alma mater exceptionally well. His legacy will live on, of course, through the great work of The Robert D. and Billy Ray Center; the Robert D. Ray Collection of personal papers (circa 1987-1999), archived at Cowles Library; the RaySociety, Drake University’s lifelong learning organization; and the Ray Promenade, a beautiful plaza to be dedicated on campus this fall. 

“For now, please join me in remembering Governor Ray, and in supporting his family at this difficult time. Thank you.” 


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