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King University Announces the Death of Former Interim President Richard A. Ray, Ph.D.

April 10, 2024

Richard A. Ray, Ph.D., former interim president of King University and longtime member of the University’s Board of Trustees, died today following a recent illness. He was 88.

“We are saddened to share the news of Dr. Ray’s death,” said Alexander Whitaker, president of King. “He was a towering and beloved figure in the King community, a longtime servant of the University, and a man whose life was given completely to the pursuit of our motto, ecclesiae et litteris — for the church and for learning. Those of us here on campus join with many others throughout the nation in grieving this loss and in expressing our gratitude for his steadfast and generous heart.”

Ray, who lived in Montreat, North Carolina, left retirement and returned to Bristol along with his wife, Lila, to serve as interim president from February 2014 through July 2016, shepherding King through a time of transition. He also served as a guiding voice on the Board of Trustees for nearly four decades, and as a King faculty member for 14 years. In 2016, in honor of his exceptional contributions to King, the University presented him with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree, and also recognized the Rays with a proclamation affirming the “immeasurable gratitude and deep love” of the community.

A joyful and lifelong scholar, Ray received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree from Union Theological Seminary. He held a Rockefeller Brothers Theological Fellowship at Princeton Theological Seminary and received his doctorate in Theology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

In addition to his higher education work, Ray served the Presbyterian Church as a minister, leading churches in Arkansas, Virginia and Missouri, and locally at Bristol’s First Presbyterian Church as senior pastor from 1981 to 1997. He was also the former managing director at John Knox Press for nearly a decade and taught as the Robert Meneilly Professor of Leadership and Ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary from 1997 to 2001. He also served as general editor for Kerygma Bible Studies.

Ray was instrumental in the formation of Healing Hands Health Center in Bristol, Tennessee, and served on the board of Wellmont Health System (now Ballad Health). He served on the boards of the Buechner Institute for Faith & Culture at King, the Missionary Emergency Fund, and the Presbyterian Foundation. He was also director of the Children’s Trust Society at the Grandfather Home for Children, chairman of the Board of the Presbyterian Heritage Center at Montreat, and former president of The Presbyterian Outlook.

“Dr. Ray’s contributions to the communities he served, as well as to the individual lives of those who encountered him, were immeasurable,” Whitaker said. “It has been my privilege as King president always to have his model of selfless leadership as an example.”

Ray’s family includes his wife of 64 years, Lila, daughters English and Alison, son Rod, and eight grandchildren.

The University has placed a memorial wreath on the campus Oval in observance of his funeral.