Joliet radio personality Tony Ray was ‘awesome, gentle spirit’
By Tony Graf email@example.com August 25, 2012 11:16PM
Updated: September 27, 2012 11:47AM
JOLIET — Tony Ray, the Joliet radio personality who lent his familiar and uplifting voice to advocacy and community service, died Friday night at age 53.
He leaves a silence where gospel music once sounded, where a relaxing presence once warmed the airwaves of WJOL-AM, and where that same joy and confidence filled the rooms of the Forest Park Community Center.
“He was a man of his word, a man of integrity — just an awesome, gentle spirit,” said Bettye Gavin, executive director of the community center.
Ray was born and raised in Joliet. He listened to WJOL-AM (1340) as a child. He graduated from Joliet East High School, attended Joliet Junior College from 1978 to 1980, and went on to graduate from the DeVry Institute of Technology.
At the age of 15, Ray began his career in radio as a sports reporter and gospel show host on WJRC. In March 1978, he began working at WJOL in Joliet, doing sports as an assistant to then-sports director Larry Ryan and also filling in on the overnight shift and hosting a soul music show.
Ray’s original job at WJOL lasted 20 years. For most of that second decade, he was a well-known morning host, a friendly and positive presence at the break of dawn, with a rich radio voice and a good knowledge of inspirational music.
“He knows he’s as much a part of waking up as that first cup of coffee,” wrote Don Hazen, the late radio columnist for The Herald-News.
“I enjoy this town, and I hope I’ve been a reassuring voice for people, especially when things have gone wrong,” Ray told Hazen, referring specifically to the 1990 tornado that hit Plainfield, Crest Hill and Joliet.
In 1998, just before his 39th birthday, Ray left Joliet to become operations manager for three radio stations in Hammond, Ind.
In 2002, he became a victim’s advocate with the Will County state’s attorney’s office in Joliet.
“A victim’s advocate is somebody who stands in the gap between the court and the victim,” Ray told The Herald-News. “My first job is to forge a relationship of trust and to be sure the victim is safe.”
The victim’s advocate’s role also included informing victims of their rights, making referrals to social service agencies, providing support during the criminal justice process, and accompanying victims to court. Communication was a key skill for the job.
“I’ve got a big heart, a big heart for people,” Ray told The Herald-News. “I believe our job as Christians is to minister to the needs of people.”
Ray returned to the Joliet airwaves to host the afternoon show on WJOL from 2005 to 2007.
He had been in failing health. The Herald-News reported in February that Ray had kidney problems and was on dialysis.
Ray had a love for both music and community service. He served for 20 years as music director at Shiloh Baptist Church in Lockport. He eventually became the minister of music at All Nations Church of God in Christ, according to his biography at the Joliet Junior College website, www.jjc.edu.
He became well-known for hosting the Easter Seals telethon, and singing or acting as master of ceremonies at countless appearances. He was a mainstay of the Kiwanis Show for many years.
Ray sat on the Will County state’s attorney’s Community Outreach “Faith Based” Advisory Board. He served as coordinator of the 12th Judicial Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council.
During his first run at WJOL, Ray became president of the Forest Park Community Center, 1017 Woodruff Road in Joliet. Louise Ray, who was not related to Tony, founded the center in 1994. She served as executive director until her death in 2009. At that point, the center had matured into a multifaceted agency, providing a variety of programs for youth and people of all ages.
After Louise’s death in 2009, Tony Ray, who was serving as board president, became the executive director. Last week, Gavin was named to the director’s role.
Visitation services for Tony Ray will be 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 4 at Minor-Morris Funeral Home, 112 Richards St. in Joliet. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Sept. 5 at All Nations Church, 503 S. Water St. in Joliet.
contributed to this report.