Steve Mark Ray, 70, died of cancer December 1, 2020, at Sage Meadow in Middleton. He will be remembered as a devoted father, unheralded journalist and steadfast friend with wry wit and deep intelligence beneath his solitary nature.
The son of William Lewis and George Ann (Frederick) Ray was born November 12, 1950, in St. Paul, Minn.
Longtime work at The Capital Times, as wire news editor, had Steve rising at 4 a.m. to glean hundreds of news stories and photos from around the world. Then he’d choose, prioritize and edit the top dozen or two for publication. It was a formidable job with the daily expectation that well-laid plans would be tossed whenever late-breaking news demanded a quick reshuffling of editorial content.
Steve embraced hard work, avoided fanfare and was professional, efficient, stoic. His 19 years at the Cap Times ended with the newspaper’s first round of downsizing in 2008. He was proud that his two children earned college scholarships through the publication’s Evjue Foundation.
His hands-off approach to parenting was never neglectful: Daughter Katie and son Dan considered it a sign of respect and admiration for his fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth.
Steve went about life with both a quiet dedication to daily routines and a sense of adventure and appreciation for the comedic and absurd. He enjoyed camping with his family in the Midwest and, in later years, spent a part of winter in Mexico. After newspaper work ended, he took on an early-morning job at Menards.
Learning about other cultures and ways of life – through travels, reading and television – were of great interest. His home was filled with books and old National Geographic magazines. Re-watching favorite scenes from “The Blues Brothers,” “Joe Dirt” and other comedic films also kept him engrossed, as did fishing.
Before moving with his family to Madison in 1989, Steve worked as a sportswriter, news reporter or copy editor at newspapers in Green Bay and Monroe; Iron Mountain, Mich.; Keokuk and Davenport, Iowa. Co-workers appreciated his dedication, integrity and sense of humor.
The guy with brilliant blue eyes, rugged good looks and an infectious laugh graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a journalism degree and was editor-in-chief of the Advance-Titan college newspaper. He maintained college friendships and was in Oshkosh during the journalism department’s 50th anniversary in 2018.
Steve was a stylish dresser in the newsroom and a perennial hippie – woodsy and flannel-garbed – when away from work. The man of few words occasionally would surprise those who thought they knew his backstory with outlandish and hilarious tales of his unconventional formative years. Like the time he met Ken Kesey. Or the time he launched a 200-pound boulder into the sky with a can of gunpowder.
Despite Steve’s solitary nature, he tended to be a focal point for gatherings of friends and family. Wherever he lived effortlessly became the gathering place for holidays and Packer games. His cooking of Italian and Mexican specialties was much loved.
Steve is survived by his treasured children, Katie Ray of Chicago and Dan Ray (Kristin Garcia) of Burlington, Vt.; and grandchildren Daenerys and Crixus Garcia Ray.
Cousin Lyn Wygant of Kalamazoo, Mich., was like a sister to Steve; lifelong friends Stan LaBelle, Larry Pawlowski and John Peila were like brothers. He also remained close to his former wife of 20 years, Sheryl Voita, who cared for him to the end and still loves him in the beyond.
He was preceded in death by his parents and a sister, Sandy Marie Ray.
Cremation Society of Madison assisted the family, and a celebration of life will happen after COVID restrictions are lifted.
The loss of Steve’s wit, insights and even-keeled bearing on the world leave it a far poorer place. We will miss the sense of acceptance and connection in those bright blue eyes too.
What remains is love, gratitude for our time with him, trust and reverence for life’s many mysteries.