UA Journey

Bill Ray

By Bill Ray Jr. and Terry Ray Shattuck

Born in Anaconda, Montana, in 1922, Bill Ray grew up in the area around Wallace, Idaho. He lived with his sister Amber, mother Marchetta and stepfather Eli, a Yugoslavian immigrant. After Amber married and Bill graduated from high school, the Rays decided to travel north to see what opportunities might be available in Alaska. Due to limited funds, Eli and Bill came ahead to check out the region. Bill’s first view of the territory that would become his home for more than sixty years was from the deck of the SS Baranof.

“The year was 1938. I went slipping and sliding down the gangplank of the old steamer the Baranof. Steerage had not been the best of accommodations. Even for a 16 year old the steel bunks with no mattresses down in the ship’s hold had been as hard as the purser’s heart.

“Finally I steadied myself on the snowswept dock. Looking around I could see most of the people on the pier were muffled up to their eyes in heavy clothing. They were protecting themselves from the icy wind that was sweeping up the channel. I shivered to my being as the cold instantly seeped into my light jacket. Looking wildly around for my dad who was behind me somewhere, I had to admit that I was starting to get scared. What kind of an icebox was this place, this Juneau, Alaska?

“A week later I was nearly acclimated. I had the promise of a part-time job and had even made a couple of new found friends. My dad found some card games where he could make some money. Things were beginning to look up for us. It wouldn’t be too long before we could send my mom enough money to join us. We had to leave her in Seattle because we didn’t have enough cash for her fare. When we left Wallace, we thought we could take a bus to Alaska. What a rude awakening for us when we found out the only way to get there was by boat.

“Bingo! I made the longshoreman’s extra list. This allowed me to work the boats. It wasn’t steady labor, but I was usually hired a couple of times a week. The wages were good and it was helping us get by. Mom finally arrived. She went right to work waiting tables in one of the restaurants. Things were really looking up now that our Commander in Chief was in residence again. I tried my hand as a crewman long lining and trolling. At that time neither one really appealed to me, so I kept on with longshoring.

“In 1940, Dad got a job running the gambling in the Silver Foam Bar in Sitka. Actually, he had gotten his start in life as a professional gambler. As a 15 year old, he had made his way across the Atlantic Ocean from Serbia playing cards. I got a job at Pyramid Packing Cannery unloading tenders, crewed on the Kuaiu Queen and finally got on steady at the Sitka Cold Storage, working for Oxenberg Bros. Most of that time I spent in the freezer.

“The Navy began upgrading Japonski Island so I went to work there as a chambermaid and mailman on the City of Victoria, which was an old Canadian steamer that had been gutted and was being used as a hotel and boardinghouse. Soon I transferred outside to the stump gang, but wearied of Alaska and decided to go south.

“I ended up in Reno working as a shill in a casino. Before long I was a part-time stickman on the crap table. I soon gravitated back to Seattle and there I went to work in a B-joint called the Double Header on Second and Washington. Next, I got hired as a Pangini dealer at Carlo’s Corner, which was just up the street.”

Bill enlisted in the Navy in 1942, and was stationed in Santa Ana, California, after taking radio training. He was assigned to Lighter Than Air, blimp sub patrol. He spent months on Adak and Amchitka. From the Aleutians he was sent to Honolulu as Chief Radioman, attached to Nimitz’ staff, and was discharged in 1945.

Bill came back to Juneau after his discharge in January 1946. Eli and Marchetta then had a small family bar on South Franklin called the Midget. They soon built a large first class cocktail bar. Bill designed the name which honored his mom and dad—the new establishment was called the PaMaRay Club. (Eli and Marchetta were fondly referred to as Papa and Mama Ray.)

Even though Bill had returned from the service with few belongings, it was devastating when a fire ripped through his room at the Coliseum Rooms, a week after he arrived. A singed photo album from his time in the Navy was the only thing he salvaged from the blaze.

During a Bartenders Ball in Douglas in 1946, Bill met Jeanne Haas, a young transplant from New York, who had recently been hired to work at Behrend’s Department Store. Bill’s folks stood up with the young couple when they married a few months later. Bill and Jeanne’s first child, their daughter Terry, was born in 1947. After a stint as a laborer, Bill went to work for his folks as a bartender, and later moved up to the Baranof.

Marchetta Ray died suddenly in 1949, and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery.

Bill had a small boat and was supplementing his wages by fishing commercially. He was appointed to the Federal Fish and Game Advisory Board, his first taste of politics. It wasn’t long before the Rays opened their first package store, Bill Ray’s Liquor Store, buying the George Brothers’ package store license. Bill and Jeanne took turns doing shift work in the store and caring for their two children, Terry and Bill, Jr. In the late 50’s, a second store, Gastineau Liquor, was opened. Bill was an avid fisherman and had a small charter business during the summer months for seven years. During the long winter months he read, painted, and studied politics, while pulling the long midnight shifts at the stores.

In 1959, Governor William Egan appointed Bill to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for a two year term. He was reappointed for a three year term and elected chairman.

In 1962, having become curious about the political process in the new state, he ran for a seat in the State House of Representatives and was defeated. In 1964, he was reappointed for another three years on the ABC Board, was still chairman and was also acting director. He filed again for State Representative and was elected.

He served on the Finance Committee all six years of the three terms which he served in the House, and was also appointed chairman and vice chairman. In 1970, he was elected to the State Senate. He was again the Finance Committee Chairman, and continued as a member for many years during his 16 years of service. Bill fought hard for his constituency, acquiring funding for projects and buildings that he hoped would help retain Juneau as the Capital City. After 22 years of legislative service, he retired in 1986. Legislative accomplishments of which Bill is most proud are co-authorship of the Longevity Bonus and the Permanent Fund Dividend bills.

The Rays acquired two more stores, Baranof Liquor and the Liquor Mart, before finally selling the businesses in the early 1970’s. Bill and Jeanne separated during the early 80’s, and later divorced. Jeanne traveled and eventually returned to the work force as a VISTA volunteer. She passed away in 1990.

Eli (Papa) Ray retired and moved to California in the early 1960’s, but always referred to Juneau as home. He lived independently in his own home in San Clemente until the fall of 1986, when he returned to Juneau. He passed away in December that year and is buried next to Marchetta.

Terry Ray married Roger Shattuck in 1966, and after residing in Seattle for a short time, the couple returned to Juneau. They have been active in the community with their own businesses and by serving on several boards and commissions. Their daughter Lynn was born in 1974 and is currently attaining her degree in writing. The couple’s son Will was born in 1977 and died in 1999. Both children were active in scouting and theater and were musically talented. Both attended the Art Institute of Seattle.

Bill Ray, Jr. entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis and then spent an additional five years in the Navy before returning to Alaska, where he became a prominent regional artist. He was married to Molly Smith and was a founding member of Perseverance Theatre. The couple divorced amicably in 1991. After spending time traveling abroad, Bill resettled in Berlin, Germany. He lives with his second wife Jutta and their son Juli, who was born in 1997. Bill is a successful artist and Jutta teaches medieval German literature at a university in Berlin.

Bill, Sr. married Nancy Tallman in June, 1985. They honeymooned in Greece and then returned to Juneau. Since Bill’s retirement from public office in 1986, the couple enjoy a quiet life, accented with travel and time shared with their family. Bill and Nancy have recently pulled stakes and moved to a home in Sequim, Washington, where they can garden and chase golf balls year round.


Link

Liquor, Legislation & Laughter, an article on the release of Bill Ray's memoir