Ray was born in Washington D.C. in 1946. After several years each in Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Ohio and Indiana, his family moved to southeast Florida in 1956 where he completed his primary schooling and graduated from Pompano Beach High School in 1964. He completed his B.S. degree in Biological Sciences in 1969 and M.S. degree in Microbiology / Animal Virology in 1971, both from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL. He then spent 1-year teaching high school general science and biology. After teaching, he worked as the laboratory manager for one of first research programs in the country studying biological control of aquatic weeds, which is where he developed his interest in and passion for plant pathology. In 1974, Ray went to the University of Florida to pursue his Ph.D. in plant pathology working on the biological control of the noxious aquatic weed, water hyacinth, under the mentorship of Dr. T. E. Freeman. Ray completed his Ph.D. in May 1977 and received the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ (IFAS) Award of Excellence for Graduate Research for the best Ph.D. dissertation of the year. In July 1977, Ray accepted the position of assistant professor in the Plant Sciences Department (now the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology) at Texas A&M University.
At Texas A&M, Ray’s initial research focused on biological control of aquatic weeds and he led an effort using color infrared aerial photography to document effectiveness of a biological control program to rid Lake Conroe, a 20,000-acre reservoir in Texas, of several noxious weeds. Shortly after that, Ray embarked on a long career working on soilborne diseases of cucurbits, primarily Fusarium wilts and Monosporascus decline. Together with colleagues and his graduate students, he published over 100 manuscripts, book contributions, review articles, and symposia lectures and became a leading world authority on Fusarium of wilt watermelon. In the 1980s an unknown vine-decline disease of cantaloupe and watermelon appeared in south Texas causing extensive commercial losses. Ray lead a team of colleagues and graduate students that identified the pathogen as the little known fungus, Monosporascus cannonballus, and went on to publish seminal research on its biology, pathology, epidemiology and management protocols.
Ray spent 20 years at Texas A&M (1977-1997) and in July 1997, he left to become the department head of the Botany and Plant Pathology Department at Purdue University. During his 9 years as department head, he hired 13 new faculty and doubled the number of graduate students and post-doctoral associates in the department, elevating the department to a top 5 national ranking.
Throughout his 38-year career, Ray had a significant teaching responsibility, teaching five different graduate and undergraduate courses. He truly was passionate about teaching and was recognized multiple times for his effectiveness as a teacher by being named the outstanding teacher in his departments multiple times and was awarded the Texas A&M Former Student’s Association Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest teaching award at the university. There are numerous successful plant pathologists today that had their first induction to plant pathology in one of Ray’s courses. During his career he mentored numerous M.S. and Ph.D. students and he considers his interactions with them and other students as his most rewarding professional experience.
Ray devoted much time and energy through his career to the service of his academic institutions, civic organizations and to the American Phytopathological Society (APS). Ray served APS in numerous capacities throughout his career, including serving on 20 committees, offices and boards. Additionally, from 1984-1988, he served on the Plant Disease Editorial Board and as the first editor of Plant Disease Notes and News Diseases and Epidemics. He also served on the Committee on Fusarium of the International Society of Plant Pathology (ISPP) and as editor of the newsletter, Fusarium Notes, also for ISPP. In 1994 he was elected vice-president / president of the APS Southern Division, and elected councilor of the APS North Central Division in 2002. In 2005, Ray was elected vice president of APS and served as president of APS during the society’s 2008 historical centennial year. He later served as the chair of the APS Foundation Board from 2010 – 2015. In 2010, Ray was elected an APS Fellow of the society.
On December 31, 2014, after a 38-year career, Ray retired from Purdue University and, along with his wife Carol and their two Labrador Retrievers, moved to Cape Coral, FL where they now enjoy spending more time with their three children and eight grandchildren, their wine cellar and travelling.