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Mountain City man establishes scholarships at two area colleges

MILLIGAN COLLEGE, TN (September 24, 2001)—Mountain City native Boyd Ray has established a $100,000 annuity at both Milligan College and Mars Hill College – local schools Ray attended in the late 1930s. The annuities will establish scholarship programs for Johnson County, Tennessee, students.

“I see students and families at church and around town who are just like I was – working people just trying to find some money to go to school,” said Ray, who explained that his experience in trying to go to college during the depression of the 1930s set his vision for this scholarship.

His interests and life have been so expansive that to study Boyd Ray is to study the 20th century experience. A pilot, a World War II veteran, a business and industry leader, a farmer, a public speaker, a writer, and an actor — Ray is a universal well-rounded man from Appalachia, what some would call a “Renaissance man of the mountains.”

Sitting in his home perched on a ridge overlooking Mountain City, Ray never seems to run out of stories to tell, from the comical to the spellbinding and the profound. As he tells fascinating stories of days gone by, it is easy to see how those experiences relate to the human condition of the 20th century.

“Mother got this idea into me to amount to something, to be somebody,” said Ray. “And my Sunday School teacher impressed upon us not to waste our lives but to accomplish something, to set goals. That’s the way I grew up. My parents had a vision for what we children could become.”

A young man determined to go to college despite the ongoing depression, Ray approached a local politician in 1935 and asked for financial help. The politician put him to work in a local rock quarry, where Ray earned 16 cents an hour for a 10-hour shift. At the end of the summer, he had saved $54 and headed off to Mars Hill College just over the state line in North Carolina.

At Mars Hill, Ray immediately took on leadership roles. During his two years there, he was business manager of the yearbook, vice president of student council, president of Philomathian Literary Society, an intercollegiate debator, member of the Dramatics Club and senior class secretary. Ray finished his studies at Mars Hill in 1937, receiving an associate degree.

Next, Ray wanted to complete a bachelor’s degree, but he could not afford to return to school and was forced to take a year off to work. In 1938, determined to finish his degree, Ray found a friend to sign a $50 note so he could enroll at nearby Milligan College.

At Milligan, Ray was a member of Alpha Psi Omega Dramatic Society, was on the debate team with debate partner Glen Williams — now a federal district judge in Abingdon, Va. — and sang in the college octet.

“Milligan and Mars Hill afforded me the opportunity to be a leader,” said Ray. “My professors instilled in me the way to accept responsibility and leadership in a confident and graceful way.”

Finances again kept Ray from completing his degree at Milligan. But he eventually finished his degree at Tennessee Teacher’s College and got his pilot’s license in 1940. In 1941 he graduated from the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, and became the first man from Johnson County, Tenn., to fly airplanes in the military. He served over five years during World War II as an Air Corps Resident Representative and military test pilot at the Cessna and Beech aircraft companies, before leaving the service in 1946 with the rank of major.

With his education and experience, Ray began a career in the middle management level of the guided missile manufacturing industry.

“College and the Air Corps had really prepared me well for dealing with top business leaders around the nation,” said Ray.

After his children graduated from college, Ray left business and industry and went home to the family cattle farm just over the mountain in Doe Valley. In 1978, Ray’s wife died. Later, to fill his time, Ray became active in the Johnson City Community Theatre where he performed in several plays.

In 1989, Ray sold his farm, retired from raising cattle, and moved into town. He soon began writing stories about his memories of growing up and living in a small rural town in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. He published Blue Mountains and Green Valleys, a collection of stories from his life, in 1996.

“Growing up in Mountain City wasn’t like growing up isolated from the world,” said Ray. “We had a wonderful town and community. During high school, we learned how to dance and how to play bridge, and my mother and sisters took art lessons and were both accomplished pianists. We were fairly well-cultured for 1930s Appalachia. And in college I discovered I could hold my own.”

In 1998, two years after publishing his book, Ray developed severe pancreatitis and spent four months hospitalized near death. During the months Ray spent recovering and in rehabilitation, he thought a lot about his days at Milligan and Mars Hill. When he recovered, he had a new sense of purpose to help others like him obtain a college education.

“I appreciate Mars Hill and Milligan’s Christian commitment,” said Ray. “A lot of people have dedicated their lives to serving Christ at both of these schools — not only the students, but also the faculty.”

“Fortunately I have managed my money well over the years and had stocks that were doing well, so I decided to make some money available for kids to go to college. I just saw the opportunity and put everything I could afford into it.”

It has been said that to be a true Renaissance man, one had to have cultural grace, be a gentleman, be of noble birth or position, and have an understanding of the arts and sciences. One also had to have a great impact on Renaissance society.

By this definition, there is no doubt that Boyd Ray is a true Renaissance man of the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. The impact of this wise gentleman will be felt for generations to come.


MILLIGAN COLLEGE is a Christian liberal arts college in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The college offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan College, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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