Sometimes people come along with a heart so big that they transcend race, class and socioeconomic status during a life that impacts generations.
In looking at the hundreds who packed into Southeast Tennis and Learning Center last Saturday, it was clear that Clark E. Ray was such a person. He served four mayors over 20 years of service in the District of Columbia.
Ray, who died June 5, directed the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. In 2009 he ran unsuccessfully for an At-Large seat on the D.C. Council, and in 2012 he became the executive director of the newly formed D.C. State Athletic Association. He was 57.
Ray forged the development of state championship events, the formation of a student-athlete scholarship program and the creation of the DCSAA High School Hall of Fame in 2017.
Former D.C. Councilmember Brandon Todd, D.C. Child and Family Service Director Brenda Donald, D.C. Councilmember and former Mayor Vincent Gray, of the DC Department of General Services Director Keith Anderson and Mayor Muriel Bowser all spoke Saturday.
“He was known by just about everybody in the halls of D.C.,” Gray said during the service. “Everyone of us was impressed with his passion for public service and advocacy. I watched him so unselfishly turn the state athletic association into a first-class operation that symbolized excellence and achievement.”
Bowser said Clark set an example as an adoptive parent who adopted boys. “Clark spoke with his whole body. He had a very physical way to express everything that he did. What a beautiful way to make a family through adoption.”
In life Ray was a political contradiction. A white man from Arkansas who was a member of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast. He voted for Ronald Reagan but he was chief of staff for Tipper Gore. He was a proud member of white college fraternity but his husband and their four sons were African American.
“Was he straight, was he gay, was he white, was he black, was he an official, was he a boss, was he a colleague?” former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry said. “What I concluded is that some kind of way he transcended all of that.”
John Stokes, who worked with Ray at the Recreation Department, said, “He was loved and revered by people from many walks of life.”
Ray, born in El Dorado, Ark., served as student body president as a senior at Smackover High School and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1986, he pursued his masters degree at Temple University. In 1992 he joined the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Following the election victory, he accepted an appointment to the Department of Agriculture.
During the 2000 Gore Presidential campaign, Ray became chief of staff for Tipper Gore. Many former staff members from the Al Gore presidential campaign attended the funeral, including Donna Brazile, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and acting campaign manager for Gore.
“He was good people, Not only is this a loss for the city, but the nation,” said Brazile, adding that Ray occupied a special place in the Clinton/Gore White House and that is why so many from that era offered written tributes.
“President Biden, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Tipper Gore, everyone who knew Clark, loved Clark, ” Brazile said. “I had to call a lot of people in Arkansas when I learned of his death. It is just tragic.”
Ray wore many hats in the District after his White House years. Peter Rosenstein, columnist for the Washington Blade, said, “Clark is one of the few people that not only talked the talk of equality and justice and love, he walked it every day, he lived it. He was one of those amazing people who could be part of every community in D.C. and he was loved by everybody.”
Retired Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Brett A. Parson, who ran a special liaison branch that focused on the gay community, said Ray was more than a police officer. “Clark was a friend, he was a mentor, he was role model, he was a fellow community member as a gay man. He meant more to me than five people put together.”
Ray is survived by his husband Aubrey Dubra. Together, they adopted four boys, Rahmeer, 21; Tajon, 18; Jamar, 12; and Richard, nine. He also leaves behind his mother, Gerrie Ray, his brother Mike Ray, sister-in-law Rhonda Ray, nephew Dakota Ray, his wife Callie Ray and a niece, Nicole Ballard, her husband Grant and many other cousins, relatives and friends.
Before delivering the benediction, Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor emeritus of Union Temple Baptist Church, reflected on how Ray loved visiting his house for his Friday evening fish fries. “Clarke could eat. There were … never any leftovers when Clark came over for dinner,” Wilson said.
Wilson expounded during the service on a deeper aspect of the relationship Clark had with him and the other members of Union Temple who served as ushers. “Every time I called Clark, or he called me, or we met for breakfast as we often did, he would say, ‘Rev, it is just another day in paradise in Washington, D.C., with all the hate, with all the division in the world,’ He had to know something.”