Celebrating the Life of Don Ray

Today was the funeral for Don Ray, who served as our Vice President for Development from 2000 to 2004, before he went on to pastor a church in Michigan.  The family asked me to write a eulogy focused on his fund raising work.  I was honored to remember such a great friend in this cause of Christ centered higher education.

Don Ray was a broadly gifted friend who had many remarkable chapters and centers of influence in his life – but I had the privilege to work with Don at the pinnacle of his fund raising career.

Our connection began just hours before he was to accept a position in Minnesota as Vice President of a Christian University, having had a successful run doing the same work at Millsaps College here in Jackson.

I had never met Don, but when I was told on a Friday that Don was announcing a position change on Monday, I called him late that afternoon.  And by Sunday afternoon we had such a deep friendship and connection of our fund raising philosophies that he and Jeanie pulled out of the Minnesota announcement and moved across the street instead.

That was how Don worked.  He trusted his instincts, he built off his vast experience to make solid decisions, and most importantly, he looked to the Lord for guidance and followed God’s leading even when it didn’t always make sense.

As a fundraiser, Don loved to dream about connecting good people with a vision for God’s work.  Several times a week he would unexpectedly pop into my office, and usually began the conversation saying, “I was just thinking …” and then go on to tell me about a potential friend of the University who needed to become an investor in Christian higher education.

He loved to think about how to reach people who didn’t know us, didn’t understand us, and didn’t yet grasp the significance of Christ-centered higher education.  He would scan the landscape, looking for people who could change a student’s life by their gifts.  And then, we’d set out a course for how to become connected with that person.

We talked about so many people during those years.  We probably talked about most of you here today and what you ought to give!  He even would talk about how to get his family to give to Belhaven University.

But for Don, it was never about the money.  It was always about what the money did to help a student who couldn’t make it without some assistance.  And it was always about how it could light up a giver’s life by allowing them to become part of God’s great design for building His Kingdom.

Together, we raised a lot of money.  We sweated through some times when it seemed impossible.  And rejoiced when we could see God do the impossible.

During his four years at Belhaven our development office grew into maturity for the first time in our 120-year history.  Don Ray led us there.

He gave students hope by raising scholarships.

He gave faculty tools to transform lives.

He gave me encouragement in the journey.

He gave Belhaven so much – including giving us a remarkable son-in-law architect who took the funds we raised, and put a permanent stamp on Belhaven that will last for generations.

Most importantly, he gave his life to God by raising gifts to help students who would never say thank you, because they didn’t even know who was working so hard on their behalf.

Don didn’t want applause; he just wanted to hear God say, “well done Don Ray”

And now, Don has heard the Lord receive him into eternity with that very welcome.  And with my faint voice in this world, I’d echo, “well done Don Ray…..well done my friend.”

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