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A pillar of the Bethesda community passes

Bethesda lost a “ray” of sunshine last week with the death of a longtime resident and business owner.

James William “Bill” Ray died Oct. 20 following a long battle against cancer. Bill was in Cartersville, Georgia, at the time of his passing, because his daughter, Marsha Massing, had moved her parents there to her home so she could help to care for him.

That meant many local residents who knew and loved Bill did not have the opportunity to visit him when his illness was at its worst – a fact that actually may have been a relief to Bill, since I think he would prefer for people to remember him as the jovial, outgoing person he was when he was in his prime.

I am one of those people who became very fond of Bill. He and my dad, the late James Compston, were good friends and, eventually, partners. I don’t remember when Dad and Bill became acquainted, but during my teen years it seemed as natural for me to stop in to visit Bill at his store as it was for me to go home after school.

Dad spent countless hours at Ray’s Electric, Bill’s beloved business on Main Street in Bethesda. Together, they tinkered with and repaired all sorts of refrigerators, washing machines, clothes dryers, cars, trucks, tractors and more. Bill previously had worked for coal companies, lumber mills and many other businesses and was an electrician by trade. Dad had retired as a machinist for Ohio River Collieries. Their combined skills meant that they could fix just about anything.

Whenever I visited Bill and his wife, Carol, at the store or at their home, they always made me feel welcome. Bill would greet me with a grin and a compliment. He always seemed to see the good in people with his bright blue eyes, and he made it a point to share those observations with anyone who was around to listen.

Dad and Bill eventually bought the old Bethesda gymnasium together. I think they planned to start a business or two there, but life got in the way. I believe they hoped that Bill could move Ray’s Electric to the main floor of that structure, while Dad planned to repair cars, trucks and engines in the basement, where there was a garage bay. They filled that building with their stuff, but they never got around to making it a profitable venture. That building was demolished by its new owner earlier this year.

The Ray’s Electric site, though, remains an important location in the village. It has been transformed into the Bethesda Community Center, where weekly Rotary meetings are held, holiday celebrations are hosted and families hold bridal and baby showers and birthday parties on a regular basis. I’m sure Bill would be happy to see all of those joyful events taking place in the location where his business once hummed with activity. Fittingly, a reception was held there on Saturday following Bill’s funeral service.

Bill was born at home in Lloydsville on Aug. 5, 1935, to James Bedillion Ray and Thelma Luella Lynn Ray. His mother, at age 101, was present at his memorial service on Saturday, along with Carol and two of his children, Marsha and Keith. Bill and Carol’s daughter Lisa Ebeling passed away in 2017.

Bill graduated from Bethesda High School in 1953. He loved his school and served as president of the Bethesda Alumni Association at the time of his death. In addition, he loved to sing and play instruments, especially the piano. He entertained people all the time, through his music, his storytelling and his good-natured jokes.

Bill was an Army veteran, having served in the United States, Japan and Korea after the conclusion of the Korean War. His survivors include a large family and many, many friends.

My heart goes out to Carol, Marsha and Keith as they face this loss, and to all of the people who knew and loved Bill. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered.

On an entirely different note, I want to take this opportunity to remind area residents that it is time to get out and vote.

The Nov. 5 general election ballot features a number of important local races and issues. Mayors and council members will be chosen in several communities, and levies in support of schools and other entities will be decided.

Early in-person voting already is taking place at county board of elections headquarters across our region. That is a convenient option for anyone who might no be able to visit his or her polling location on Election Day.

In addition, there is still tie to request an absentee ballot that can be returned in person or via the mail by the end of voting on Nov. 5.

Don’t miss the chance to make a difference.

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