Ray Alexander Givens savored telling a fine story: now you are invited to share a moment of his own story. Having a father born in 1856, five years before the US Civil War began, was among the more unusual details of Ray's life. It does not end there. An adventurer at heart, Ray reluctantly retired his snow skis at 80 years of age, after relishing the hobby particularly with his son, Richard, and grandson, David.
Long before snow skiing had captured his attention, though, a tall, shapely blue-eyed blonde, 22 year old former co-ed from Eastern Kentucky Teacher's college (now EKU) caught his eye and held his heart. Together they came to Oak Ridge in 1951; he securing employment at K-25 and she with the Atomic Energy Commission. Ray honored his promise to Margaret. After her funeral in 2010, he mused, "That preacher shook my hand and congratulated me like I had really done something to stay married to her for 64 years. Why, hell, I was just enjoying myself."
A favorite series of excursions was to nearly circumnavigate the US eastern seaboard. Together in their retirement years, they launched their mid-sized cabin cruiser at Oak Ridge Marina (less than a quarter mile from their home in Emory Valley since 1968). Through the system of TVA locks at each successive dam, they cruised rivers and the Tenn-Tom waterway and into the Gulf of Mexico. The pair stayed for weeks aboard their "minnow" of a watercraft among the more fully fitted-out vessels in places like the Demopolis (AL) Yacht Basin. Through the canal to the Okeechobee Lake of Florida and out the other side, splashing into the Intracoastal Waterway, this particular adventure led them. Northward on the east coast they were bound, viewing their beloved southeastern United States from a different vantage point than usual. Success in the endeavor was theirs as they navigated into the waters of the northern states, harrowingly losing sight of land once (before GPS equipment was standard issue for non-military vessels). At this, Ray's first mate vowed permanent retirement from her eastern seaboard tour. Although the Erie Canal did not carry them southward to home as originally planned, these golden years' wanderings were the path less traveled -- and made all the difference in the journey to Ray and Margaret.
Water beckoned Ray. Even before the cruising, perfecting water skiing held years of his attention. Slalom skiing and coming off the lake bank on one ski were Ray's favorite stunts in his prime water skiing days, which delighted him more with his brother, Bill, and his children Eddie, Toni, James, and Billy. Norris Lake offered some peace. From Ray's earliest days growing up in Middlesboro, Kentucky, he craved the chase of bream on his fishing line. Ray was known to compare the satisfaction of his hooking a Bluegill to a certain woman's happiness over finding a good bargain at her favorite store. He did have a way of teasing her with the accusation of "stocking up before the hoarders get there."
So Ray was not the ideal shopping partner, perhaps, but he did make an exuberant fishing partner -- whether staying up all night for the hobby as newly-weds, spearheading an event to the ocean with work associates or family, or patiently teaching a very young grandson the basics at the dock, Ray celebrated life in the everyday on the water.
Funding Ray's water toys and adventures was his career with Union Carbide/ Martin Marietta's K-25 Gaseous Diffusion operation, which bookended several years at Modine Manufacturing in Clinton and his degree in business administration (economics) from the University of Tennessee. Finishing his full-time studies in parallel with full-time employment, Ray determined to succeed in making time to read every day to his toddler. (Which, according to British academician Adam Swift, offers the equivalent benefit of an elite private school education.) Jayna used to bring her beloved daddy a stack of books for him to read aloud to her, saying, "Just two. Just two!" Math skills evidently were not passed from father to daughter as quickly as a devotion to words and reading were passed. An education at UT was his wise, enduring gift to her later, too.
A desire to create -- manifested in building houses -- clearly transcended generations. (Evenings after work and weekends were given to building, from the foundation up, the Anderson County house which he and Margaret shared for a decade. Their Oak Ridge home of 47 years indeed was subcontracted, albeit supervised, by Ray.) His son, Richard, who also matriculated through UT, is a civil engineer (P.E.), focused in other hours on building his and his wife, Ivanna's East Tennessee home. Curiously, of the six houses which Jayna has called home, only one was not built by her dad or husband, Tim -- IBM /Lexmark retired electrical engineer -- and dirt artist -- whose current project, approved of by Ray, is a 73 acre residential development circling his carved, oval two acre pond near Lexington, Kentucky. Ray's imprint on his children has been much the same as a potter's imprint on his clay, once dry.
His influence stretched beyond his family, as well. Ray accepted leadership responsibility in 1950 as Troopmaster for the Boy Scout troop of his childhood hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky, even two decades before Richard bounded into Cub Scouting. While Ray himself had not advanced completely through scouting, Margaret's brother, Don, formerly of Pineville, Kentucky, is a Life Scout. Ray's grandson, David, and nephew, David, are Eagle Scouts, and Ray's grandsons, John and Josh are on track to earn the Eagle Scout rank. Ray's passionate review of his 1930's edition of the BSA Handbook was this: "It was the best book ever written!"
Sure, Ray had been a free spirit, hiking and camping in the mountains around Cumberland Gap as a boy, returning home merely when out of food, and Ray may have had no interest in memorizing the Scout Oath and progressing through the ranks, but he long treasured his scouting memories of camping with his buddies and unwittingly preparing himself for WWII military service in Italy, (of which one sepia photograph remains. Ever the dog lover, Ray, with helmet and weapon, knelt by a German Shepherd dog for mutual affection. The rescued Belle was the most recent recipient of his canine adoration.) Ray indeed stepped into the high calling of Boy Scout leadership to continue the training of boys into men -- something he intuitively knew that only a man can do. Ray had learned from his manly scout mentors (alongside his brothers Tom and Herbert) the use of tools: the skill had taken him to the trade of butcher, soldier, and coal miner in early adulthood -- house builder and fixer of anything broken through his earlier retirement years.
Ray's body proved more difficult to repair, though. Even after successfully battling cancer as an 88 year old -- with the astute help of Drs. Cottrell, Strike, and Rice, a series of strokes cut Ray's life short. Indeed, Ray's sister, Goldie Givens Robinson, lives today in Harrodsburg, Kentucky -- at 97 years. Ray's paternal grandfather, Alexander, died on the job. He served as a circuit preacher, riding between hamlets in Kentucky and Missouri to preach the gospel: he passed on only because his horse threw him -- when he was 104 years.
While Ray's life was shorter than his own father's 96 years, his life was full. A middle child of 11 and a man's man, Ray nonetheless was at his best when treating the women in his life with gentleness and a spirit of protection and provision -- beginning with his mother, Rilla, who indulged him with rhubarb pie on occasion, although soup beans and corn bread were the meal staples of which Ray spoke from the Great Depression years -- along with the luxury of the once per week chicken their family enjoyed; his sister, Paralee, who attended to him in earliest years; his sister Goldie, who, as a newlywed herself, paid young and industrious Ray ten cents in the 1930's to mop and wax her kitchen floor weekly (with that dime he would buy popcorn and a Saturday matinee movie ticket -- westerns were favorites); and in his own family, beside Margaret and Jayna are his delighted-in artist-athlete granddaughters, Heather and Hayley. When not visiting his grandchildren in Lexington, Kentucky, reunion trips were celebrated at the Grand Canyon and the Savannah River, usually, with Margaret's brothers, Jimmy, and wife Dorothy, and Don, and his wife Dorothy, and their children, David, Stephen, Catherine, and Susanna.
In other time off, Ray was a proficient marksman, a defender of the second amendment yet no defender of the lazy. He was an adventurer, and achiever, and a playful kite flyer. For most of his life, his theme seemed similar to Frank Sinatra's: "I did it my way." Perhaps he thought of himself as a self-made man, who, with great determination and endurance pulled himself from the financial scarcity of formative years in the Great Depression in Appalachian Kentucky. Ray married well and provided well. He was entirely aghast at the suggestion that Medicare pay for a wheelchair at the end of Margaret's life when he himself could provide for her needs; "Why, that is our tax money!' was his indignant retort. Ray dutifully contributed to the running of the country through last year, even. Ray left no debt for his family to pay. His thoughts were always toward how to best provide for them -- even after strokes had left that thinking power diminished. An unusually verbal man, Ray's last true conversation was with his new Savior. It was an impromptu prayer for God to protect his family because he loved them all. While Ray had not known Jesus long while he was on the earth, he had evident faith and assurance of Jesus' greeting him into eternity.
The day Ray quit struggling to do it his way and be the man in charge, his desire was motivated toward a new ambition: "I've got something to tell you: I'm going to be a preacher...like Rick wants me to be." Curious. A little late for that? Ray preached the values of his family and of his generation (called by some "The Greatest") by the way he lived his life -- as every life preaches what it holds dear. It was, though, his new relationship with Jesus which he had somehow missed for so long, that gave him the desire to preach -- to proclaim to others the peace he had found in trusting God with his future. Ray said no particular prayer, but the love of God was poured out into his heart so that faith was evident.
Thus, it was in peace that Ray Givens drew his last breath at 88 years of age on 8-15-15 at 8:15 PM, in his home which he built with Margaret and with family who loved him close by and hospice to care for him till the end -- rather, into his new beginning.
Ray's full life will be celebrated on Saturday, August 22 at 2:00 PM at Martin Oak Ridge Funeral Home Visitation with the family will be 11:00 Am until time of service. Interment will follow at Oak Ridge Memorial Park.
11:00 AM - 2:00 PM (ET)
Martin Oak Ridge Funeral Home
Oak Ridge, TN 37830