Mrs. Dorothy ‘Lucille’ Flack Ray, an Asheville Living Treasure, departed this life on Sunday, February 3, 2019, bequeathing all who knew her memories of a uniquely gifted teacher, poet, orator, and loving mentor and guide.
Born on June 19, 1924, in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Myrtle Florine Stepp and Lee Virgil Flack, Dorothy Lucille Flack grew up in Asheville from the time she was four years old. Even as a child she was outspoken about unfair rules, and as an adult she challenged them by word and deed, as a speaker, writer, and activist.
She brought the same verve to her own life choices: she married young, had four sons and two daughters, and then determined to take a new path: to leave her husband, relocate to the nation’s capital, return to school for Certified Medical Technician training, and work in a federal job with dignity and freedom.
In Washington she met and married David Ray, a chef who endeared himself to her through his incomparable cooking—and his devotion. They made for themselves a happy, successful life there, and while still living in Washington they bought a house in Asheville where her family, neighbors, and friends could gather. Upon David’s retirement, they settled here for good, and she began a new career in early childhood education, which she pursued for the next fifteen years.
“Children will teach you!” she frequently said. She made a practice of having a “graduation” ceremony for all her students—cap and gown and diploma included—and always told them, “Don’t you let this be the last one!” Many of those children would return years later to show her their high school diplomas and college degrees.
In Asheville Lucille and David quickly became a what would later be called a “power couple” in the civic world, active in fundraising and programs at Hill Street Baptist Church, Nazareth First Baptist Church, the NAACP, Zeta Phi Beta Zeta Amicae, and the cancer research support group Relay for Life. They founded the Culinary Arts Program at Hill Street to train young people in that profession, and organized a fundraiser for a scholarship fund at Nazareth First Baptist. She also began lending her stunning contralto voice to the church, both as a member of the choir and as a soloist, and she was long active with the Toastmasters.
She also wrote, primarily poems, and with her talent as a performer and speaker—and her melodious voice—she published them and read them for audiences and benefits. She partnered with a friend in a public-school program called “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” to raise awareness about racial history and diversity through the arts of storytelling and old-time “Negro Spirituals.”
Recently, Mrs. Ray recited one of her poems at the “Walk for Life” event, a meeting celebrating cancer survivors. A two-time survivor herself, she always insisted that one must remain happy and grateful for that all life has given when facing such challenges. “I am glad things are as well as they are,” she often said, “so I won’t complain.” And she never did.
Among the gifts Mrs. Ray brought to the world and shared without hesitation was her talent for putting serious thoughts into accessible aphorisms. “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair!” she might say about the Jim Crow laws in place during her youth—which she challenged. Or, upon being far more generous than expected, she would ask, “Have you ever seen a U-Haul behind a hearse? I didn’t bring nothing into this world and I ain’t taking nothing out.”
“I’ve never been afraid to speak out,” she admitted, and her fearless attitude imbued many who learned from her with a similar courage.
UNC Asheville Professor of History Dr. Darin Waters fondly remembers the times he spent talking with Mrs. Ray: “I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to have had the opportunity to know Mrs. Ray. Her many years of life gave her a depth of wisdom that I found both instructive and inspirational. One of her greatest legacy is her advocacy for both the preservation and deeper knowledge of African American history. That advocacy stemmed from a sincere belief that education is a lifelong process, and that knowledge of the African American experience helps us to not just remember the struggles and achievement of those who proceeded us, but to also draw inspiration from their survival and work to create a better and more just society.”
Even at the end of her long, admirable life, Lucille Flack Ray was determined to leave something greater behind. In lieu of flowers for her funeral, Mrs. Ray requested that donations be made to a scholarship fund to be awarded in her honor through Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. And later this winter, a recorded compact disc of her poetry will be released, to be followed by a book, with all proceeds to be used to help the community—especially, she hoped, to provide new hymn books for the church.
Another one of her favorite sayings was: “Life is a challenge-so face it! If you know who you are, and whose you are, you can make it!”
Dorothy Lucille Flack Ray tried only to be who she was, and do what she could, and she did it well for 94 years.
Take wing, and may her spirit soar!