Funeral, Eulogy, and Memorial Talks




MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR “BUTCH” RAY

[Talk given by John E. Enslen at First Baptist Church of Wetumpka, Wetumpka, Alabama
on Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 2:00 p.m.]


In mid-March of 1949, a young 22-year-old Coach Jack Ray was in the spring training phase of his new job as head football coach at Millry High School in Washington County. His lovely wife Louise was visiting with relatives in Wetumpka and doing some shopping for their forthcoming first-born child. Although only 7 months pregnant, Louise began to experience an untimely onset of labor. She was taken to Dr. Sewell’s hospital on Marshall Street where she would give birth on March 16, 1949, to a baby boy they named Billy Jackson Ray. Baby Billy was a fighter and survivor from the day he came into the world, destined to stoically endure and overcome, time after time, the horrendous odds that would be stacked against him.

When only a few months old, Jack’s assistant coach, Carl Jones, gave the baby boy a tough nickname that would stick with him throughout the remainder of his life—“Butch.” When Butch was about 9 months old, the wife of a doctor, from whom the Rays were renting a home in Millry, suspected that Butch might have a neurological abnormality. Subsequent tests confirmed that Butch had a life-long condition called cerebral palsy that affected his entire body. At or near the time of birth, there had been injury to that part of Butch’s brain that controls his muscles. As a result, his ultra-tight muscle tone would produce movements that were stiff and jerky, and he would not be able to hold his body in normal, fixed positions. Talking and eating would be difficult because of the lack of control over the muscles in his face and upper body. Unable to walk, he would be wheelchair bound, and dependent on others for every human need.

But inside that imperfect physical body resided a combination of unconquerable spirit and a superb intelligence. Adding to those positives were two supportive and loving parents, sacrificially dedicated to doing for Butch that which he could not do for himself. In time, four younger brothers and sisters would be there for Butch. Lots of friends and relatives would pitch in, like Dixie Lanier, who drove Butch to and from his special school in Montgomery.

It was under the severe handicap of those ever-burdensome, physical limitations that Butch would choose the type of person he wanted to become. And what kind of person was that? For one thing, a person who did not complain. I am reminded of the words of Paul who said: “I speak not in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philip. 4:11) I would venture to say that there is no person in this holy edifice today who could say that he ever heard a single complaining word from Butch Ray.

What kind of person was Butch? He was a person who felt and expressed gratitude for his many advantages and blessings in life. He was a person of compassion who cared about the welfare of others, and who wanted to be of service to his fellow man. There was nothing wrong with Butch’s ability to feel the higher, more noble human emotions.

Many in such bleak circumstances would have preferred to “curse God and die.” (Job 2:9). But not Butch. He chose to be an honorable man of faith who trusted in a God of love. As a youth, and with the physical assistance of his father, Butch was baptized in the old sanctuary next door by J. Albert Hill, a man for whom many of us feel a deep and abiding respect. Butch was an avid reader and student of the Bible, and found comfort in knowing that earth life is but temporary, while eternal life is forever.

Butch would go on to graduate 4th in his high school class of 1968 at Central High of Phoenix City and thereafter obtain, in 1972, a degree in Sociology from the University of Alabama. His already strong loyalty to the Crimson Tide was further strengthened when, on his first day at the Capstone, he personally met and talked with Coach Bear Bryant. Nor was that loyalty to his alma mater weakened when Coach Shug Jordan, in response to a personal letter from Butch that no one knew he had written, kindly sent him two tickets to an Alabama-Auburn football game. Butch later secured a master’s degree from the University.

After being in charge of federal grant programs with the Elmore County Board of Education in the mid-1970’s, he worked 2 and 1/2 years in Birmingham, get this, counseling the handicapped. He would later work in Washington, D.C. as an advocate for the disabled. Under the appointment of Dr. David Matthews, the cabinet level Director of Health and Human Services, Butch served on a national advisory committee for the disabled.

Like you, I have received many e-mails since the advent of the Internet, but the e-mails that I cherish most are the e-mails I received from Butch, knowing that every letter, every punctuation mark, every space, was produced one painstaking step at the time by a mouthpiece with an extended prong.

The Butch I will best remember is the young teenage Butch. He was Wetumpka High’s greatest football fan. I can still picture him on the sidelines with the team during our high school football games. He was in his favorite element, just being included as a part of whatever was taking place. He was indeed an integral part of that culture. He was Wetumpka’s “Radio.” (Referring to the movie by that name.) No one got more excited than Butch during that two-year span of 20 games without a loss. Only those who experience it can know of the special bond that is created between a coach and his players and their most loyal, rabid, die-hard, devoted sports fans, like Butch, who provide the encouragement and support it takes to produce winners. By any reasonable standard of measurement, Billy Jackson “Butch” Ray was an astounding success in life.

The Saturday before this past New Year’s Day, Coach Ray told me in a telephone conversation that Butch was not doing well. He asked me to drop by and visit Butch. I, of course, wanted to do that, but I did not get over to the nursing home next door to my office until Tuesday after New Year’s Day. I walked down to Butch’s room, but he was not there. An orderly told me that Butch had been taken to Elmore Community Hospital the day before. Feeling badly that I had taken too long to go and visit him, I immediately drove to the hospital. With the help of Pink Lady Juanita Franklin, who walked the halls of the hospital with me looking for Butch, we learned that he had been taken to Baptist South. I called Coach Ray the next day and learned that Butch was in ICU. I made arrangements to meet Coach Ray the next morning at the 10:00 a.m. commencement of visiting hours.

I would like to refer to Volume 98 of my personal journals. Under the date of January 4, 2007, I made the following entry:

I drove to the hospital the I-65 way, arriving about 10:00 a.m. I immediately went to the 4th floor where the ICU is located. I found Coach Ray and Jimmy Ray, his son, in the ICU waiting room. Another son, Larry, and his sister Flo, and a friend named Stormy were then visiting Butch. When they returned with a report that Butch was improved from the preceding night and no longer breathing through an oxygen mask, I was relieved. Coach Ray and I then walked down the hall together to visit with Butch.

Butch is one of my real heroes in life. During the night, as I contemplated that I would be visiting with him today, I came to tears a couple of times just thinking about his being on the very edge of death. There was a powerful spirit brooding over me as I reached back in my memory to view Butch, our most faithful fan, on the sideline of my every high school football game. Butch recently contracted a severe infection and also suffered a mild heart attack. All of that was on top of his having been a wheelchair-confined quadriplegic his entire life. His father, Coach Jack Ray, had told me on Saturday that he thought Butch may have given up on wanting to live any longer. I had prayed intensely for Butch’s improvement during the night, but leaving the matter entirely to the will of God.

I had put on my best suit for the visit. When I walked into the ICU with his father, I was glad to see that Butch was coherent and could understand what I would be saying to him. One of his eyes was closed, and his one open eye was rolled far back into his head so that he could see the television high on the wall. Nick Saben was giving his acceptance speech as Alabama’s new head football coach, and Butch is a big Alabama fan.

Talking is difficult for Butch, so he did not respond verbally to us as we entered the room, but I knew he was aware of our every move and word. I asked Butch if I could turn the volume on the TV down so that I could tell him something. I looked for a volume control on his changer but could not see one. His father must have sensed that I had something important I wanted to say, and he turned off the TV for me. I got down close to Butch’s ear. I then said to Butch, “No one in the world can blame you if you have decided you want to pass on to the other side, where you can be with your mother, and uncles and aunts. You have fought a good fight. You are a valiant warrior. You have faced adversities daily that the rest of us face only in our worst nightmares. You have been a wonderful example of courage to me. I have been honored to push your cart a few times, and I regret that I have not done it more often. You have earned a great reward. I know that Heavenly Father is very pleased with you. I cannot imagine the joy that will be yours when you pass to the other side. I want you to know that I will miss you. I will be sad.” When I had said those words, I was forced to pause for what seemed like to me a long time. I was overcome with emotion. I could not speak. The tears were rolling down my cheeks. Then in a choking voice, I said. “It will be a happy sad, knowing of the joy that will be yours. But I also want you to live just as long as you want to live.” Putting my right hand on his clean-shaven head, I said, “I love you.”

In the way that only Butch can talk, he gathered up the strength and breath of his body and worked up four words which he spoke in a soft, humble, and heartfelt manner, “I really appreciate that.” That is all that was said between the three of us. I wiped my face with my handkerchief as a nurse returned to the room. Coach Ray and I silently walked out of the room. Neither of us spoke as we walked down the halls to the waiting room. Perhaps it had been as equally special a moment for Coach Ray, as it had been for me. Words at that time would have tarnished the sacred silence.

May I close with three short verses from the New Testament, contained in the 9th chapter of John: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:1-3)

Indeed, the works and power of God have been made manifest in Butch. And I bear my solemn witness that the power of God will yet be made more manifest in Butch, for “as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) Our Savior and Redeemer has prepared for Butch a glorious resurrection “in the likeness of his resurrection,” (Rom. 6:5) wherein the soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul, yea, and every limb and joint to their proper and perfect frame in the fullness of joy, and not even a hair of his head shall be lost. (See Alma 40:23 in The Book of Mormon)

In the name of Him who is “the Resurrection and the Life,” (John 11:25) even Jesus Christ, Amen.


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