Former Iowa Governor, Robert Ray, dies age 89

Robert D. Ray, age 89, died early on July 8, 2018.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Robert D. Ray, age 89, died early on July 8, 2018.

Devyn Leeson

Former Iowa Governor Robert Dolph Ray, who served for five terms from 1969 to 1983, died on the morning of Sunday, July 8, at age 89.

Ray died of natural causes at Wesley Acres, the assisted living care facility located in Des Moines, where he had been living for the last few years.

“Gov. Ray’s legacy lives on in the millions of people that he impacted as a tremendous statesman for Iowa and our nation,” said Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in a statement following his death. “His civility, courage and common-sense governing set a high standard for those who followed.”

Ray also oversaw massive changes in Iowa government including but not limited to, the unification of the state’s court system, the removal of sales taxes from groceries and prescription drugs, the creation of the Iowa Department of Transportation and the restructuring of school aid in Iowa.

Ray was born Sept. 26, 1928, and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1946. From there, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Japan.


In 1952, Ray graduated from Drake University with a degree in business and later, in 1954, earned a law degree from Drake.

Before he ran for governor as a Republican, Ray lost his first two attempts at public office; he ran and lost in a 1956 run for Polk County attorney and a 1958 run for the Iowa Legislature.

Under Ray’s leadership, the Iowa Legislature funded schools through a larger portion of statewide income taxes rather than local property taxes. He also implemented collective bargaining for state workers, which was undone last year under the Republican legislature.

Under Ray, the state of Iowa also took in an extensive number of refugees and asylum seekers. Ray allowed refugees from Southeast Asia into Iowa who had been displaced by the Vietnam War, Tai Dam Refugees in 1974 and later allowed for Cambodian, Vietnamese and Lao refugees in 1977.

In 1979, Ray helped start the Iowa SHARES charity. This charity raised today’s equivalent of $2.1 million to assist refugees in Thailand with food, clean water and other forms of aid.
Ray received the Iowa Award in 2005, one of the highest awards any citizen can get. Former Governor Tom Vilsack told Ray that he could have qualified for the honor in at least five categories when he gave him the award.