Many important lives are lived in the shadows of fame and fortune and do not necessarily call attention to themselves.

These quiet, uneventful lives, filled with honor and honesty, are the ones upon which this great country was built and should serve as sermons to others.

Ray R. Riley of Charlotte, who died Jan. 20, 2011, was one such person. He lived quietly, humbly and honestly and died at Hunter Woods Nursing Home at the age of 83.

He shared a home with Magdaline, his wife of 55 years, and whom he’d loved far longer than that. Ray was a Korean War veteran in the early 1950s when he met Magdaline Walker through friends. They went to a lot of movies and parties in their two years of dating, but “We didn’t go dancing,” she said. “I liked to dance, but he didn’t.”

They married on her birthday in 1955.

This union was blessed with sons, Johnny Walker and Curtis and Roger Riley; daughter Patsy Walker and granddaughter Latonya Wright, who was much like a daughter.

Always big laughs

There was also goddaughter Ruth Hemphill, whose father died when she was just 2 years old. Sometime in the 1960s, “They chose me,” she said. “I was the chosen one. We enjoyed one another, and my godmother was a joy to be around, too. The family always had big laughs.”

Ray was dedicated for more than 30 years to his job at First Presbyterian Church, Magdaline said. “He was a custodian and went back to help with special services, even after he retired.”

The majestic 1821-era church still sits at 200 W. Trade Street, right in front of its historic Fifth Street cemetery, the resting place of our town’s earliest settlers.

Roger Blackwelder, who is in charge of the church publications, had known Ray for eight years.

“You don’t have to be a banker or lawyer to make a good impression,” he said. “Ray was a beautiful man. He was honest, and he wanted to make you feel good. When he retired, I sent him a simple card and he came all the way from his home just to thank me for it in person.”

He was a good example

Ray, a native of Duluth, Ga., was a member of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. He had few hobbies beyond watching “The Price is Right” and all sports programs on TV, his wife said.

“He was a great man, a good father, and I learned a lot from him,” said son Johnnie Walker. “I learned to pay bills on time, keep food in the house, take care of the family and to be a good example to kids. Lots of men call themselves a man, but he was the perfect example. He was always willing to give, and he loved my mother.”

Daughter Patsy Walker said her dad was “Calm and very forgiving; he had wisdom and guidance and kept our spirits high. He was constantly encouraging us to reach the peak. He was a very dedicated father.”

Patsy’s son, Frederick Walker, said his granddad was honest and funny. “He was very upfront about stuff, and I learned to be strong – he was a very strong man.”

And we need – not more bankers and lawyers – but more good, honest men like Ray Riley.
Editor’s note: This is our series called Lives That Matter. Written by Charlotte writer Gerry Hostetler, this weekly feature will profile individuals, recently deceased, who had a positive impact on those around them.

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